Eat That Jack

Surprise! They’re really not bad to eat.

Oh sure, you say, you’ve long heard of eating amberjack. But we’re not talking AJs, or any of their first cousins, or any fancy jacks like rainbow runners or bar or even yellow jacks. We’re talking plain old everyday crevalle jacks, and we recommend you don’t skip to the next story unless you already know how good jacks are to eat. After all, were a quarter-million Bahamians wrong about conch fritters? Throughout the Bahamas and the Caribbean, jacks of all kinds are esteemed for their rich flavor and firm flesh.

So, if you are inclined to ignore the following revelations and rely on the advice of others, do yourself the favor of clarifying one simple point. Ask anyone who disparages the flavor of crevalle if they ever have eaten it. Likely they are just passing on a rumor started by some fish lover long ago, so he could have all the jacks for himself.

You don’t have to do anything you shouldn’t do with any other good fish you intend to eat. Step one being to immediately ice the fish alive, which does two really good things. First, it draws most of the blood into the fish’s internal organs, in a survival reaction for the fish, and as a flavor enhancer for you. Never mind what you may think of a juicy beefsteak; blood doesn’t do anything for a fish’s flavor, or its appearance. Remember the last time you kept a fish alive on a stringer or in the livewell, and killed it with a fillet knife? Remember what a bloody mess the second fillet was compared to the first half, from which all the blood drained into the bottom side of the fish?

Icing your fish alive remedies that problem almost completely. And if you’ve got the time, slicing through the fish’s gill arches while you hold it overboard is a very quick way to get rid of all its blood before you put it on ice, or especially if you don’t have any ice to put it on.

The second thing ice does for a fish is make it firm, and thus ideal for slicing. Fillets from iced fish are just plain prettier and, third but not least, way less likely to breed bacteria picked up off the fish-cleaning table.

You can, of course, make all kinds of fancy maneuvers with a fillet knife, slicing away the red meat on the fillet to avoid the strong flavor. I didn’t with three jacks I put through the (stomach) acid test, just because I didn’t want to do anything different than I ever do with other fish. Unless you count taking them to a master chef.

For my test of crevalle I enlisted the help of Fort Myers chef Vollen Loucks. Vollen Loucks is not an Army-trained 94-B-20-type cook, as I was, but a guy whose pinot noir sauce could transform tongue of combat boot into haute cuisine. Besides which, Vollen will be the first to tell you he is not a real seafood lover, although that did not stop salmon from being his restaurant’s biggest seller.

So it was that I showed up at Vollen’s back door with a half-dozen fillets of crevalle on ice. The sultry August day before, the 2- to 3-pound fish had been buzzing about in Punta Gorda Isles canals. They were bled when caught, filleted and skinned within a couple of hours of being iced, but otherwise had not been given special treatment of any kind.

The first thing Vollen did was appraise the fish for texture, noting the flesh was very dense, not unlike tuna. He deboned each already ribless fillet by cutting out the pin bones almost all fish have running down the center from the head end, toward the tail. The bones are more easily felt with a fingertip than seen. For a whole-fillet presentation, the pin bones can be cut out, leaving a V-shaped notch. Or the fillet can be cut in half lengthwise before the bones are sliced away. Vollen notched two fillets and cut the others in half.

Each piece of fish was seasoned with sea salt and white pepper. The first then was dredged in flour and sautéed for a minute or two per side in vegetable oil that was just beginning to smoke from high heat. In compulsive chef fashion, Vollen also threw in some smoked tomato meats and roasted red peppers, which of course were absolutely delicious, but which did not appreciably alter the flavor of the fish. Then with a big glug of white table wine (a California chardonnay), he lit up the whole mess like Disney World on the Fourth of July, deglazing the dish until the liquid was reduced to a glorious sauce.

You are of course saying sure, the last thing the cat dragged in would have tasted good if it was gussied up like that. That jack sure did, even by Vollen’s standards, but that was not the half of the experiment.

The next fillet was simply tossed on a 90,000-B.T.U. grill that etched dark brown crisscrosses into each side, while leaving clear juice in the center. There was no stopping Vollen and his sauces, one of which was purée of prickly pears he had plucked from a cactus patch outside his back door. The artfully drizzled sauce was as vibrant to taste as it was brilliant to behold, but it served as it should have—a mere complement to the delicious flavor of the grilled jack, which we agreed was even better than that sautéed.

I ate the whole fillet without coming up for air, as I had done the first, after allowing Vollen a taste. For his finale, he deep-fried the remaining pieces after they had been dipped in egg wash and breaded in cornflakes.

“Like everyone does crunchy grouper,” Vollen said, “everyone” being the competition in his tier of the restaurant trade.

With the crunchy jacks he provided two dressings—a homemade rémoulade and a mango mayonnaise—either of which was to die for if your arteries were not up to the task. Fortunately, I was too stuffed to do more than taste the combinations, both of which were splendid, as by that time we expected. What was unexpected was how unbelievably good the remaining seven pieces of fried jack were after I doggy-bagged them and ate them cold, one by one, straight out of my refrigerator over the following two days.

So there you go—sautéed, chargrilled or fried crunchy, there doesn’t seem to be a way to mess up a jack, save one. Back in my brief tenure as a snook guide, I had a repeat customer who was a light-tackle bluefish fanatic from Long Island.

On one trip, he and his son-in-law doubled on a couple of typically ferocious jacks that would have pushed 10 pounds, after which he inquired if it might be possible to take the fish home for dinner. I knew he liked bluefish, so I noted the jacks weren’t a poisonous species, but at the time I had to admit I had only tried them one way. That was smoked on a charcoal grill, after soaking the skin-on fillets in brine for 15 minutes. I didn’t add that my experience had included a quantity of cold beverages that I couldn’t be sure hadn’t colored my opinion of the results, which I had thought were good.

He thought that a reasonable risk, so I bled and iced the fish, and then made sure I got a full report on the results.

“Not bad,” he said of the jacks, which the whole family had eaten. “But the next time, I don’t think I’d soak them in brine. They were awfully bland.” FS

  • http://www.facebook.com/greendo Domonique Flocka Green

    Man. I really wish I would have read this earlier this morning. Caught a 50+ lb jack and everyone on the boat said they were horrible and bloody… Learning is half the battle thanks man.

  • Stingray1277

    You're fricken nuts! No amount of bleeding and icing is going to take away the strong overly fishy taste and smell of Jack Crevelle. Now, if you had said that you sliced the meat thin and served it as sashimi I might have believed you. But make no mistake about it, JACK IS NOT TUNA and im sick and tired of crevelle avicianados telling people that. I hope this is some kind of late April Fool's joke because you are going to have a whole host of angry people writing in and telling you just how wrong you are! Yuck!

    • Christian Leuchtenberg

      you are wrong here.

    • PJ

      Guess the jokes on you then. Maybe you just need to learn how to handle and prepare fish properly. It’s only strong tasting if you don’t remove the dark sections of flesh. You are “sick and tired” something you can’t spell eh? That explains a lot.

  • Russel Chiodo

    Always try it for yourself. I tried coot this season–popular opinion was correct in that situation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.coombs.5 Jonathan Coombs

    with my family being from the islands we prefer jack over some of the well known species of fish…cooked right the jack is a very tastey fish i stay on floridas eastcoast and jack are plentyful a shiny spoon and med tackle u cant beat the experience…we love the species for some to say its horrible truth is they probly havent even tried it i'm pretty sure with the right cook their minds would change….

  • capt. mark corn

    My buddy makes the best jack jerky….yes from jacks….we live in costa rica tons of them here my buddy smokes them up as jerky. Everyone who trys it says its the best BEEF jerky that they have tasted…Then tell them it is fish…They dont know what to say…its yummy…capt. mark corn osa pennisula costa rica

  • Tim

    Jacks including AJ's can carry ciguatera. I don't think diner is worth suffering for the twenty years.

  • ethan

    any reef fish can carry ciguatera. personally i think you are overly paranoid, but i geuss better safe than sorry. Jack is good to eat as long as its cooked with strong flavors such as balsamic vinigar and rosemary.

  • john

    I had some jacks for dinner today. I thought they were good. If you like bluefish of three pounds or less, then you should try eating Jacks. The small cravelle jacks were filleted (about 4" x 6" ), and the bloody areas were removed. Thawed the fillets using Italian dressing for about 2 hours. Rinse and roll them in seasoned bread crumbs, and pan fry using margarine and olive oil until golden brown. Yes, they were quite tasty. Did not use any sauces or any other garneshes. I'll have to catch some bigger ones to see if those taste the same.

  • JohnPuraVida

    When living in Costa Rica, I always bought these from the local fisherman as they were cheap as dirt and weren't as desirable as the snapper, dorado, mackerel. The meat is a lot like beef in texture and taste (naturally fishier/gamey). So I would grind it and make burger patties or sautee it to make filling for tacos. Nearly everytime, people didn't believe it was fish. Only thing I did was to soak in milk/buttermilk for a few hours to tenderize and remove fish oils. You can also fillet or steak them and grill them over high heat after a marinade of soy, ginger, sugar. A little mango salsa on the side and avocado, black beans and rice and you have a nice tropical meal.

  • jack

    the small ones taste real good try it you will see .

  • Mike

    We caught some Pacific Crevalle Jacks caught off Nuevo Vallarta in Banderas Bay, about 10-15 pounders — the locals at Yelapa grilled them for us, looked just like tenderloins of beef — a few fat chunks in a tortilla with some pico de gallo, man— deeeelicious I'm telling you — my wife loved it even, and she normally will only eat white flaky type fish meat.

  • Hans Eisenman

    Thanks for the tips on draining the blood/dropping jacks on ice while live. Good to know.

    Can’t use the cooking advice much though. Deglazing and puree of prickly pair…a bit much for the little jack I caught.. :)

  • Marie Dufour

    Excellent fish… we caught 3 yesterday in Las Perlas, Panama, having great fights with a 12, 14 & 20-pounder. In addition to the uses you mentioned, I use the meat as I would in any French ragout as substitute for pork, beef or chicken. My guests never realized I was serving fish! Try it raw in Carpaccio, with oil, lemon and capers! dominomarie

  • Christian Leuchtenberg

    For many years I believed that they were not good for eating… But then we ran into a school while sailing in Belize. We had 5 lines out, 4 reels and a handline. Hooked 5 x 20 pounders, and after 25 minutes of mayhem landed all of them, 2 on very light tackle. So much fish…. so I filleted them and we found that they tasted like a tender tuna. Actually the meat stayed much more tender than a tuna, and you could cook it rare for melt in your mouth.

    I will eat every single Crevalle jack from now on!

  • Nash

    Caught a 5 lb Jack off my dock. A local fisher man walking in the river told me ‘Its bloody and I don’t eat it but the Jamaicans loves it. They soak it in milk for 2 hours before cooking it’. That almost made me release my catch. Instead, I pan fried it with some Indian fish Masalas. Walla it turned out pretty good.

  • Rocky lawson

    I’ve eaten the smaller jacks up to 3lbs. I kept a 20-25pounder one time and the meat was purple so I didn’t eat it. Next big one I get I will try it.

    Now for all you sushi lovers who throw all those bonitos back. Next time you catch one throw it directly in a saltwater ice brine. Fillet is and cut all the black blood line out and discard. The pink an most transparent mean can be sliced thin and eaten as is with a splash of soy sauce. Or if your feeling fancy make sushi rolls with it. It is delicious!!