I was recently at Jungle Jim’s International Market in Cincinnati. Most of my time was spent picking through their enormous beer selection but I did take a look at the fresh fish offerings. They had for sale several whole fish I’m familiar with from my days of saltwater fishing in Florida. Besides the Spanish mackerel and pompano, they had whole skate, black mullet, and crevalle jack.
Mullet, being vegetarian, are usually caught in cast nets. Floridians haul them in by the tons and smoke them over orange and other local fruit woods. The finished product is eaten as is or made into dips, pastes, or spreads. They are oily and thus, perfect for smoking.
Most saltwater fishermen view skates and rays as nuisance fish. They don’t put up much of a fight and once caught are difficult, and sometimes dangerous, to land and unhook. While most people don’t consider skates a food fish there are others who specifically target them. An old Army veterinarian once told me that a goodly amount of what we buy as scallops is actually punched skate and ray wings. Just as much of the “fish” and chips sold in Europe is really dogfish shark.
Crevalle jacks are one of the most exciting of all fish to catch. They are abundant and perfectly built for speed. Once hooked they are all over the place, left, right, up, and down attempting to shake the hook. Once the fight begins it doesn’t end until the fish has been landed. The prevailing wisdom is jacks that have no food value so they are normally set free to fight another day.
I have noticed that among certain ethnic groups jacks are tossed in the cooler just like any other fish. Hispanics and Asians seem to have a means to prepare any type of fish. I’ve fished alongside several Asians and since I don’t keep fish whatever I caught I offered them and they’ve seldom rejected my offerings. One Vietnamese fellow told me they clean so-called “trash” fish, grind up the meat, and use it for soups and fish patties. I think some is preserved by a pickling or fermenting processes.
Seeing fresh skate and crevalles for sale in Ohio came as a surprise to me. But, since Jungle Jim’s draws lots of ethnic people, it really shouldn’t. What it did do, for sure, was tickle my curiosity about the food quality of jacks. So, armed with Google I did a little research and found that mostly the poor food quality of jacks is a widely accepted urban myth. Like blue fish, albacore, tuna, and other oily red meat fishes they should be bled out and iced immediately after being caught. Doing so keeps the blood from saturating the flesh and affecting the flavor. One chef said that unlike beef, blood in fish is a no, no.
I seldom bring fish home from the ocean because of the problems keeping it fresh. I always said, however, that if I caught a nice grouper, or was lucky enough to catch a tuna, I’d buy some dry ice and make the effort. Well, I think on my next trip to the deep blue I’ll go jack hunting, break out the Coleman stove and skillet, and give one a try. If it is as good as is claimed I may end up with a small supply in my freezer. If it’s as good as fresh tuna I’ll be a happy angler.