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The bonito del norte, a fish in all its splendor beyond the marmitako (and four other recipes to make it shine)

21 mayo, 2021

With the approach of summer, the coasts of the Cantabrian Sea receive its most illustrious inhabitant: the bonito from the north. From June to August, the bonito fills fishmongers, restaurants and grills from the Basque Country to Asturias, passing through Cantabria, to delight with its flavor and culinary versatility.

It is the undisputed protagonist of the Basque marmitako, which bears enormous similarities with the marmite or the Cantabrian sorropotún and also with the simple Asturian bonito with potatoes. Seaworthy dish par excellence, which was used in those large cauldrons, its flavor and versatility It has made me understand not only great stews, but also other preparations.

Whether in loins, belly or sliced, the bonito del norte is a affordable fish that reaches our fishmongers fresh during the summer months, catching all the lights from when the hook bites until it reaches the table.


Description and characteristics

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Belonging to the tuna family, the northern bonito (Thunnus alalunga) can also be called albacore or white tuna., although now we will see what differs. Present throughout the Atlantic Ocean, the best time for bonito is in the summer months because that is when it houses the highest percentage of fat and the tastier it is.

Although sometimes we see it as white because of the color of its flesh -and therefore we think that it is a white fish-, the northern bonito is, like most tunas, a blue Fish How could they be the bluefin tuna we talked about a few days ago.

In addition, the bonito from the north is distinguished by its temporality -summer- and because it is essential that it be caught with traditional arts such as hunting or trolling (with artificial lures), as well as live bait (hooks with sardine or anchovy, for example, which is the coastal call in the north of Spain, which is what ensures the quality and firmness of the fish. Reason why the bonito from the north is still caught one by one and why it is called that and not albacore.

For it to be beautiful from the north, it must be fished one by one and with traditional gear.

It is a fusiform fish, elongated, tight, with an exterior between blue and metallic and stands out for its large eyes and because its back is noticeably darker than its belly, In addition to having tiny scales that makes it not a fish that is usually de-scaled. It usually measures between 30 centimeters and one meter, with a weight that ranges between 4 kilos and 11 kilos.

It lacks a swim bladder, which forces the fish to be in constant motion, which is also justifies the firmness of his flesh. Possibly the best way to recognize it is its very long pectoral fins (hence the alalunga, from the Latin long wings), thin and stylized, which can extend to more than half of the bonito. It also has a short and small dorsal fin, very rear, that runs parallel to the anal fin. The end of the bonito is topped by a powerful tail fin.

Like most tunas, it moves in large schools and has epipelagic habits, that is, it does not live in coastal waters but does not submerge to great depth. In general, the bonito from the north it does not submerge beyond 50 meters.

Like its closest relatives, the bonito is a voracious predator of smaller fish, the normal diet being sardines, anchovies or horse mackerel, and also crabs or cephalopods coinciding with many of them. during the summer coastal in the Cantabrian ports.

The fishing season in the Cantabrian Sea is called coastal, such as that of bonito or anchovy.

Although a good part of the consumption is destined to fresh, the canning industry derived from it and that is indicated as nice from the north. The light tuna of our most common canned fish is not bonito from the north, but it will be known as yellowfin tuna, common in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

Like so many other fish, synonyms or polysemy can make it difficult for us to understand what is a northern bonito and what is not, being, at a semantic level, these fish that can be confused with.

Atlantic or southern bonito: called Sarda Sarda, it shares the warm and temperate waters of both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. It is very rare for it to measure more than one meter in length and to exceed 8 kilos in weight, something that is more common in the bonito del norte. In southern Spain it is often called skipjack, as it has several black stripes on the back, or saw. It is edible and highly appreciated culinary but it is not pretty from the north.
Nice monkey: The Sarda Orientalis, typical of the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
Tuna from the Eastern Pacific: Sarda Chiliensis for its scientific name and frequent on the southeastern coast of the Pacific, hence its name.

Properties and benefits

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Incorporating the bonito del norte into our diet is betting on a very important protein load (24 grams per 100) and for a not very high fat contribution (6 grams per 100), thus planting us at 153Kcal per 100 grams. For example, comparing with other proteins of high biological value such as beef, we would find 172kcal per 100 grams.

Recommended in practically all diets, the bonito del norte in any of its preparations is an idea to meet the weekly fish requirements. In addition, it is rich in phosphorus, magnesium and potassium, three minerals that they are very good for athletes.

In the same way and like good blue fish, the fat of the northern bonito is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, so we will have an ally in it to lower cholesterol and triglycerides. Some vitamins are also present in it, such as those of group B (mostly B2 and B9), as well as A and D, which are useful for correct maintenance of our fabrics, eye health and to prevent degenerative diseases.

How to prepare and cook this fish

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With the season in hand, the most natural thing is to lie down in fins of fresh northern bonito, although we can find it frozen and canned. The frozen one lends itself to the same benefits and the one that comes canned, although it is not the same, it is also very tasty but we better leave it for sandwiches and appetizers.

Less complex than the snoring of a bluefin tuna, the cutting of the bonito is simpler and more understandable for all. The most common division is made into loins, slices, belly and neck (although cuts similar to bluefin tuna are beginning to be extracted). In addition, they can – and should – take advantage of their spines and head for a broth.

The other option is to buy it whole but you have to have enough skill to clean a nice, besides being a fish with a lot of blood, so we can make a scabech in the kitchen. The chef talks about this Ignacio Solana, With a Michelin star in the Cantabrian restaurant Solana (in the small town of Ampuero, about 50 kilometers east of Santander and which has already opened its doors), which first recommends that we look closely at the bonito. “The ones I like the most are the ones that arrive in July, which have more fat,” he admits.

Above Salted Ventresca with Eggplant and Spiny Juice Below Belly-jacketed in Kombu Seaweed and Piparras Air To the right Chef Ignacio Solana Above, tuna belly to the salt with aubergine and its spine juice; below, belly clad in kombu seaweed and piparras air; on the right, chef Ignacio Solana.

“A whole nice fresco must be bright, smooth, white on the inside and his eyes, very bright, They should be slightly bulging, “he explains. When washing it, if we try it at home, he warns against” not using a lot of fresh water when cleaning. Indirectly it starts to to cook and it is better not to cut it up whole if we are going to store it in the fridge, as it loses its qualities “.

The main cuts are the belly, the loin, the slice and the neck.

To the chef Isaac loya, Asturian and with a Michelin star in the Real Balneario de Salinas restaurant (in the council of Castrillón, about 40 kilometers from Oviedo and about 35 kilometers from Gijón; it also reopens on June 24), he also loves tuna in season. “My favorites are those of July and August, because they arrive with more fat and more flavor“, he admits, although” the females for me are better, they have more flavor and have redder meat “, he adds.

If we do not dare to cut it up at home -logical, it is not easy and it stains a lot-, we can always resort to the usual cuts of the fishmonger, taking into account that the belly and the loin are more expensive than the classic slice, which has his fans but also some drawbacks and that he also has trick. “The first part of the bonito, behind the head, has more thorn and more fat. I like the central part better, which it is not so fat and it is smooth“, says Isaac. In his case, he admits that he prefers to cut up each animal and” better those that weigh 7 or 8 kilos, not larger ones. “

“The slice does not convince me because it is very dry and it tends to cook too much. The texture of the bonito is thus lost”, says Isaac Loya, who also talks about the Asturian recipe book with bonito. “The beautiful was always made with pisto, but also the tuna roll or tuna with potatoes, that it would be a marmitako but Asturian, which are very local recipes. In addition to the grilled tuna, “although it has more technique than people think,” he clarifies.

“It is easy for it to stay dry, especially if we make the classic slice because it has very different parts, and cooking is not always respected,” he laments. “The best is seal it tight on both sides and then control the temperature of the grill well so that it does not dry out “, he assures.

Sorropotún or bonito with marine chicken are typical of Cantabria. The bonito roll or the bonito with pisto, from Asturias.

Also boniteros are the Cantabrians, where sorropotún and marmite stand as basic dishes for sailors, who share that essence of marmitako. “The key is add it off fire and at the end, that it cooks very little and remains tender “, specifies Ignacio Solana.” If you add it soon, it spoils the texture and it is not the same “,

However, they are not the only traditional dishes. “The bonito with marine chicken is very popular, where the bonito is floured and fried, and served with a crushed sauce that is removed with vegetables and the broth of the thorns,” he says. “The spines and head are perfect for that stump. I do it only with water and the bonito and I use them, for example, adding it to a hake stew because the bonito has more strength, “he says. Of course,” the thorns and the head have to …