Apr 3, 2015

The Beautiful Hawaiian Onaga

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Onaga is one of my favorite Hawaii fish to eat. It's better known by its Japanese name Onaga, than by its Hawaiian name, `ula`ula koae. It is from the snapper family and is also called ruby snapper or scarlet snapper, due to it's brilliant red color. Onaga have a unique profile with distinctive caudal fins that end in long, slender points.

Onaga has clear, light pink flesh similar to that of one of my other favorite fish, the opakapaka but somewhat softer and moister. Fish caught during the winter months seem to have a higher fat content than those caught in the summer; hence onaga yield the best sashimi during the winter season.

Most of the onaga caught off the Hawaiian Islands range in size from 1 to 18 pounds. Harvested exclusively with vertical hook-and-line gear, this bottomfish is caught in deep waters at 600-1000 feet.

Hawaii's residents have a strong culturally-oriented demand for long tail red snappers for ceremonial occasions such as the New Year's season and weddings, when onaga sashimi is traditionally served.

Broiled Onaga with Red Slaw
Kualapu'u Market, in the small plantation town of Kualapu'u here on the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i, had two beautiful onaga for sale today that were just caught in the deep waters off of our shores. I bought one, and after the cleaning process, I was able to get six large servings out of it. The meat turned pure white after cooking and was super moist due to its fat content. This is a very simple recipe that I had to share with you. Check with the market, perhaps they can get one for you to enjoy. If you don't live in Hawaii, then try any snapper, they are all in the same family.

Broiled Onaga with Red Slaw
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2 Onaga fillets
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried dill
2 tablespoons Tamari sauce or soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Lemon wedges

Place Onaga fillets on a foil lined broiling pan, skin side down. Drizzle fillets with melted butter, then sprinkle with Old Bay Seasoning, garlic, dill, Tamari sauce or soy sauce, and fresh lemon juice. Place under the broiler on the top shelf, and broil on low heat for about 15 minutes until cooked through. Serve with a simple red cabbage slaw mixed with grated carrot, and a dressing of fresh lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Garnish plates with fresh lemon wedges. Makes 2 servings.

Steamed Onaga 
with Soy/Ginger Vinaigrette
2 pounds whole onaga or opakapaka, scaled and cleaned

Soy/Ginger Vinaigrette:
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar or regular vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 2-inch piece ginger, minced
2 stalks green onions, chopped
1 small onion, sliced
3 pieces Hawaiian chili peppers, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup water

1/2 cup cilantro

Soy/Ginger: Combine soy sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, and sesame oil. Whisk together until sugar is completely melted into mixture. Then add in ginger, green onions, sliced onions, chili peppers, and garlic. Whisk together ingredients, then add water; mix again.

Steam: Place fish onto a large skillet or steamer. Pour soy/ginger vinaigrette over fish and cover. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil, then turn heat down to medium and let steam for about 20-25 minutes.

Place fish on platter and pour remaining sauce over fish. Garnish with cilantro. Makes 4-6 servings.

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