Friday, June 30, 2006

Kingfish: That's King Whiting

What’s pictured is kingfish. Down in the Carolinas, kingfish means king mackeral. Here in Delaware and in Maryland, it’s what you see. The only way I know to get them is by surf fishing. Most people are unaware that these kingfish are actually whiting. A lot farther south, surf fishermen catch whiting and call them whiting. For that matter, most are unaware of any kind of whiting being called kingfish. I’ve caught these whiting in the surf off the central Floridian coast, and they lack the dark markings that kingfish have. The commercial whiting sold by the fishmonger as whiting or as lake trout if cooked are something else entirely.

A kingfish dipped in flour and fried up in butter, oil, bacon grease, or whatever, within minutes of being caught by my Dad was my introduction to fish when I was a toddler. Never since has my opinion wavered that kingfish, however boney, is the best eating fish in the world. For goodness sake, when turning a youngster on to fish for the first time, make sure it’s fresh. Why do you think so many young people come up not liking fish? .

Catching a kingfish in the surf is a matter of luck. Your best chances are in September, although it’s possible anytime between May and October. The best bait is bloodworms, peeler crab or squid. We were really lucky this week. My son and I must have gotten into a school of them in front of our beach house. We caught enough so that all six who were staying there could have one for breakfast. They all bore roe, an indication of spawning. It was the first time either of us had had scored kingfish during June in more than a decade.

In my entire life, I’ve seen kingfish for sale only once. Of all places it was in Baltimore, about 12 years ago at Nick’s Inner Harbor Seafood in the Cross St. Market. I can’t imagine where they came from and will never know how they got there.

The ones pictured above, we rinsed in water, dried with paper towels, dipped first in buttermilk, and then in flour seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, and Old Bay prior to frying at medium-high for three minutes on each side in an equal mix of butter, vegetable oil, and bacon grease.