Notes From The Kona Coast: Grilled Opelu for Lava Fun

Grilled Opelu: Fish is a staple in Hawaii.

I doubt that is a surprise to you.

Today I have a grilled fish recipe. Grilled Opelu. Known also and elsewhere as Cero Mackerel, King Mackerel, Ono, Spanish Mackerel, or Wahoo. It makes a great fish for grilling because it has a high-fat content. But don’t shy away from the fat in mackerel because it’s high in omega 3 and that’s the good kind of fat that we all need to be getting more of.

While in Kona this week we picked up a few of these beautiful little fish. They are a great choice in here in Hawaii because they are locally caught. They are also a very sustainable choice because these fish are mindful of three of the four S’s we all need to know when trying to choose sustainable seafood.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to know which fish to choose these days. Many species are overfished or are harvested using horrendous practices that destroy the very environment needed to keep them viable and available to the seafood-loving public. I mean how much sense does it make to fish yourself right out of business? But it’s happening all over the world and unless consumers educate themselves, then we are accomplices in encouraging a situation where we fish all the fish right out of the sea.


Sippity Sup on Lava FlowGrilled Opelu

I recently learned about the four S’s through I Love Blue Sea. They’re an online supplier of delicious and responsibly chosen seafood in the Bay Area. They gave a terrific talk on the subject at my house during a Sushi making class led by Rachael of La Fuji Mama. So before I get to the recipe I think I’d like to pass these four S’s along to you. That way you can help ensure that these tasty tidbits from the sea are available throughout our lifetimes and beyond.

Small, Silver, Scales  & Shellfish. That’s it. Four simple words that explain themselves. Of course it’s a bit more complicated, but if you just remember these four S’s it will go a long way towards encouraging the markets to adopt responsible attitudes about seafood.

But let me get off my high seahorse and get to the recipe. As I said the opelu for the grillseafood choice I have today, known in Hawaii as Opelu, is a small silver fish with scales and it is delicious grilled. It is not difficult to prepare either. Especially if you follow these few simple steps.

Grilled Opelu serves 4 CLICK here for a printable recipe

  • 2 purple leis (optional)
  • 4 small opelu left whole
  • 1⁄2 c fresh lemon juice
  • 1⁄2 c olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • as many opihi as you can gather

Book a flight to the Big Island of Hawaii. Delta goes non-stop between Los Angeles and Kona.

The best results are attained if the flight is not too full and you turtleare able to have an empty seat between you and your partner. Alternatively you may fly first class. Not that I did…

Pack lightly, so that you may carry on your bag– you won’t need much more than a few pairs of shorts. If the airline tries to charge you to check a bag things could get ugly.

Bring a good book and something to eat from home. I repeat bring something to eat from home.

Spend 20+ years developing a friendship. Arrange for these friends to move to Hawaii.

Have these friends pick you up at the airport and greet you with a lei (optional) and a kiss (not optional).

Kona beachYour first stop should be a cocktail overlooking the sea at Sunset. Best results are attained with Mai Tais but experienced cooks may choose a cocktail of thier liking.

Next stop is a treehouse overlooking Kealakekua Bay. It’s fine to gasp and ask if they really live in a treehouse​.You may be tired at this point though– so off to bed should be the next step. There is plenty of time for disco dancing later in the week.

Wake up to 300,000 roosters all cock-a-doodling at the same time.

Go to beach (don’t forget sunsceen).

Read a good book, snorkel, nap, repeat.

opelu on grillWhen you are ready to grill the fish locate a flat spot on lava flow set just above the blue ocean. Set up the grill, a few chairs and check to see how many beers are left in the cooler.

Gut the fish if necessary and rinse well inside and out. Seawater is fine for this job.

Whisk the lemon juice and olive oil together is a small bowl.

Arrange the fish on a cutting board and lay that board directly on the lava. Make 1/2‑inch deep slits about 1‑inch apart down both sides of the fish. Move them to a shallow sided baking dish and pour the marinade over them. Let them marinate about 30 minutes. You may reach for one of those beers in the meantime.

opihiPrepare the grill and let it burn down to medium-hot coals. While the grill heats make an amuse bouche of opihi. Opihi are small, squat, dome-shaped shellfish. They round out the fourth S in this meal and they can be gathered easily from the rock around your feet in Hawaii.

Using a small knife carefully pry them form the rocks and gather them together in a small bowl. Rinse any grit away using sea water. Lay them in their shells, flesh side up directly on the grates of the grill. Sprinkle with a little black pepper. Cook them with the grill cover closed 3 or 4 minutes. Pass them around to your friends as you prepare the fish.

Remove the fish from the marinade and place them on clean well-oiled grates set 4 to 6 inches above prepared coals or gas flame, about 3 inches apart. Baste with marinade, and kona with friendsclose the hood of the grill. Cook until fish is opaque and moist on the inside, about 6 to 8 minutes for fish less than 1‑inch thick, and 10 to 15 minutes for fish larger than 1‑inch thick. Serve warm with another cold beer.

Watch the sunset over the Pacific and count the blessings of good friends and good food.


Greg Henry

Sippity Sup