Jan 14, 2013

"MANINI", The Small Fish That Tastes So Good!

A large school of manini on a Hawaiian reef
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"Manini" is the Hawaiian name for a small reef fish also called "convict" tang, so-called because of its black and white stripes, which resemble convicts striped clothing. Manini are one of a large family of closely related fish collectively called the Acanthuridae. This family of fish includes the unicorn fish, surgeon fish and tangs, and can be found on tropical reefs throughout the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Manini and their cousins are peaceful herbivores. They eat aquatic plants, mostly algae, that grow along tropical reefs. Manini live in large schools, a strategy that helps them deal with predators. Like many of their kin, manini have a razor-sharp spine near their tail. These scalpel-like defensive weapons are the reason why the acanthuridae are often referred to collectively as "surgeon fish." The manini is easily recognized by its pattern of stripes. It has six relatively narrow black bands, the first of which crosses its eye. They are somewhat territorial fish, and will defend a certain hiding place from intruders. In addition, they have long snout-like mouths used to eat the algae off rocks. They have a light grey/green body above and are cream or white on their underbellies. This variation helps camouflage them from predators. They are sometimes mistaken for kūpipi or mamo which have similar stripes along the body. Manini are a favorite fish of elder Hawaiians (kūpuna), and are caught in traps, nets, and by spearing.

Cooking Manini – Samoans and Hawaiians have enjoyed eating this small fish for a long time. If you go to a luau here in Hawaii, you will probably be served manini. Their rich flesh will stand up to high temperatures without drying out, unlike more delicate species, giving it a richness similar to mackerel or salmon. Adult manini only reach five to ten inches in length, so they are usually considered too small to fillet and are eaten whole. They can be pan-fried, grilled, baked or broiled, in any recipe calling for white fish. 

Pan-fried – Manini can be pan-fried in canola oil with or without their heads removed, all they need is salt and pepper and a light dusting of flour. 

Grilled – For a healthier alternative, brush the manini lightly with canola oil and grill them over gas or charcoal. Grilling crisps the skin and adds a hint of char to the flesh. 

Baked – To bake this fish, score its sides at a 45˚ angle against the black lines on the body. Place equal amounts of ginger, garlic, and butter into the crevices then splash with soy sauce. Place onto an appropriate sized piece of heavy duty aluminum foil. Fold the foil around the fish creating a envelope. Seal it so not to let the liquids out, yet still being able to open it during the cooking process to check for doneness. Place on a medium high grill and turn often with a good pair of tongs. Cooking time and amounts will vary for the size fish you have. Start checking the fish after about 10 minutes. After the fish has turned white in the score marks, it's ready. 

Broiled – To broil manini, line the pan with foil instead of parchment and oil their skins lightly. Place them four to six inches from the broiler element and cook them for three to five minutes per side until the flesh along the backbone becomes opaque.

An Interesting Note: In Hawaiian, "manini" can also describe something small, or it can describe someone who is a tightwad or extremely miserly.