How to Cook Bonito Fish

Rich in protein, bonitos fit into most diets. Whether you prefer bonito flakes, Pacific bonito or striped bonito, this delicious fish can be cooked in a multitude of ways. Experiment with healthy recipes like bonito steak, barbecued bonito fillet or bonito ceviche to diversify your meals.

Bonito fish has a sharp, distinctive flavor, which allows you to use a wide variety of herbs and spices without worrying about overwhelming its taste. (Image: akiyoko/iStock/GettyImages)

Tip

Bonito fish has a sharp, distinctive flavor, which allows you to use a wide variety of herbs and spices without worrying about overwhelming its taste. Bake, grill or fry it just like tuna or mackerel.

What Is Bonito Fish?

This medium-sized fish belongs to the Scombridae family, which also includes tuna, mackerel, wahoo and other species. It has a long body with a silvery belly, straight horizontal markings on its sides and no scales. In general, it doesn't exceed 30 inches in length. Bonitos can be found in the tropical and temperate waters of most countries, as noted in the On The Water magazine.

Several Bonito fish species are available, depending on location. These include:

  • Atlantic bonito
  • Pacific bonito
  • Plain bonito
  • Leaping bonito
  • Australian bonito

Pacific bonito, for example, is widely used in Japanese cuisine. As its name suggests, it is found in the Pacific Ocean. This fish species is about 31 to 40 inches long and can weigh up to 24 pounds, according to the California Sea Grant. A particular characteristic is its large spleen.

More than 70,982 pounds of Pacific bonitos were caught in California alone in 2014, and its distinctive flavor is highly prized in cuisines worldwide. Most stores sell either bonito flakes or wild-caught bonitos. As the California Sea Grant points out, this fish is usually brined before cooking.

Like most fish, Pacific bonito is high in protein and has zero carbs. California Sea Grant reports that one serving (4 ounces) provides the following nutrients:

  • 144 calories
  • 28 grams of protein
  • 3 grams of fat

According to the same source, this fish can be high in mercury and should be consumed with caution, especially during pregnancy. The best time to buy it is between March and September.

Australian bonito, by comparison, is 17.7 to a maximum of 70.8 inches long. Also known as striped bonito, this type can be found in bays and estuaries along the Queensland coast. It has a silvery belly and a bright blue-green back.

Another popular species is the Atlantic bonito, or true bonito. It's up to 36 inches long and swims in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Its dark-blue colored back with diagonal stripes differentiates it from other bonito species. It usually doesn't weigh more than 12 pounds, notes the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game.

How to Prepare Pacific Bonito

Bonitos have a distinctive flavor and texture that can turn any meal into a feast. Although they're not as popular as mackerel or tuna, they taste just as good and may benefit your health.

According to a small study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences in April 2019, bonito fish peptides and fish peptide consumption, in general, may protect against heart disease. Peptides are naturally occurring molecules that consist of two or more amino acids, the building blocks of protein.

Depending on your preference, you can bake, fry or grill Pacific bonitos. Another option is to add bonito flakes to salads, rice dishes or fish pie. There are endless ways to incorporate it into your diet. Remember, bonito fish is related to tuna and can be cooked in a similar manner.

Well-known Italian chef Andrea Sarri, for example, suggests pairing bonito with radicchio and soy sauce. His recipe calls for radicchio, bonito fillet, baby beetroot, sweet and sour soy sauce, olive oil and other simple ingredients that add flavor.

The Ozeki Cooking School recommends Tataki, a traditional Japanese summer dish. This recipe requires searing the fish fillet and serving it with an onion dressing, seaweed and vegetables, including finely chopped shallots, tomatoes and garlic. This dish looks pretty much like a fish salad, a good choice for hot summer months.

Try Grilled Bonito

One of the easiest ways to cook bonito is to grill it, which allows you to fully enjoy its flavor without having to worry about the extra calories from fat.

If you buy a whole fish, remove the bloodline and bones prior to cooking. Clean it well, slice it into steaks and rinse it. If you buy bonito fillets, rinse and pat them dry. Once these steps are completed, you can grill, bake or fry the fish.

Serious Eats offers some helpful tips on grilling whole fish. As the authors point out, this cooking method is a bit trickier than baking or roasting, because the fish can stick to the grill grate. Use a fish basket to avoid this problem. Although fish baskets are not a must-have, they come in handy.

Rub the fish with your favorite spices and herbs. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over it if desired. Set the grill up for two-zone grilling, if it provides this option. Put it on the high-heat area first (at a 45-degree angle) to prevent it from sticking. Ideally, its backside should be closer to the hot coals because it takes longer to cook. Remember to oil and preheat the grill grate beforehand.

The chefs at Serious Eats recommend flipping the fish with a carving fork rather than a tong or spatula. If the fish is ready, you should be able to lift it easily.

Let it cook and insert a thermometer in its thickest part when you suspect it's ready. If the thermometer shows about 135 degrees Fahrenheit, your job is done. Serve with lemon slices, freshly squeezed lemon juice, cherry tomatoes or any other complementary vegetables.

Bake or Fry It

If you prefer to bake or fry bonito, prepare the fish in advance. Clean it, discard the bones and rub it with olive oil and spices — you know the drill. Another option is to marinate it for a few hours or overnight. Bonito fish have a strong flavor, so you can use a variety of herbs and spices without overpowering its taste.

Academia Barilla, for example, shares a simple recipe for baking fresh tuna, but you can use bonito instead. The academy recommends drizzling olive oil over the sliced fish, topping it with onion and tomatoes and seasoning it with salt and oregano.

Bake the fish in aluminum foil at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 20 minutes. Open the foil and switch to low heat when it's almost ready. This will help evaporate the liquid released during cooking.

Frying bonito fish is just as easy. Prepare it ahead, heat olive oil in a pan and then fry the fillets on both sides for about two minutes or until crispy. Here's a handy tip: Add salt after, rather than before, frying it. If you salt it prior to cooking, the fish will turn dry.

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