General consensus is that bluenose is the ‘best’ eating of the three, but it is very hard to go past small ‘pup ‘puka’ or bass. The flesh has a relatively long grain so it remains firm when cooked, regardless of how you do it. It is a fish that can be well utilised. Once the fillets have been removed, the frame can be chopped up into segments and smoked, along with the ‘cheeks’ or ‘wings’.
Remove the fins top and bottom of the frame and cut through every second or third vertebrae. Place the pieces in seasoned flour and then cook on a high heat in the pan or barbecue plate and you have a great snack to go with that pre-dinner drink. The same treatment can be applied to the frames of warehou, snapper, kingfish, trumpeter and other large fish.
Despite their potential size, these three species can be broken down the same way as you might a kingfish, tarakihi or a snapper; it is just the scale that’s larger. You need a larger filleting board, bigger, heavier knives and on occasions, a ‘surgical’ assistant.
The large size of these species makes them well suited to steaking, but on the bigger fish at least it is best to remove the bone. Huge specimens have been known to be blast-frozen then cut up using a butcher’s band saw, but that is a rough way to deal with a great eating fish.
Even on the bigger specimens, remove the fillet off the frame and go up and over the rib cage. Laying the fillet face down on the board, cut along the line of the lateral bones, right through to the skin. With the tail end facing away from you, start taking the ‘steaks’ off the skin by taking the knife through the flesh at about a 45-degree angle. When you get to the skin, flatten the knife out and run it through towards the tail, separating the flesh from the skin. By cutting the fillet up this way, the grain in the ‘steaks’ remains longer and the meat remains moister during the cooking procedure. For very big fish, each steak can be further reduced to practical meal-sized pieces.
Bone left in fish for any time tends to taint it, which is particularly true with hapuku and bass.