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Coastwatch Currents

September 21, 2016 | Vanda Lewis

By VANDA LEWIS

Posted Sept. 23, 2016

fried spanish mackerel backbones on plate

Fried Spanish mackerel backbones. Photo by Vanda Lewis

Back in the day, it was common for a Down East family to have 10 or more members. With all those hungry mouths to feed, fish backbones were saved and served at dinner, along with the fillets.

black and white photo of Shellie and Mary Davis with Elbert Lee Davis

My great-grandparents, Shellie and Mary Davis, with my great-uncle Elbert Lee Davis of Harkers Island. They had a small family with only six children: Legolda, Sadie, Tennie, Alice (my grandmother), Rosa Bell and Elbert Lee. Photo courtesy Vanda Lewis

I ate fried backbones growing up. In fact, I went for those first. I thought they were great and still do. Bluefish and speckled trout are what I normally ate. I don’t get my hands on many fish these days, but when I do, the backbones are not wasted.

When we can, my husband and I like to share this Down East tradition with our friends, who usually think we are crazy. But after eating fried backbones, a group of his fishing buddies said they will never put the bone scraps in their crab pots again!

To eat fried backbones, gently bite down on one side and use your teeth to pull off the tender meat. When eating any fish, you should be careful of bones, but normally the bones do not pull off.

If the fish backbones are large, cut them in half before cooking. Here’s a simple recipe to try.

To prepare, sprinkle backbones with salt and pepper. Coat in flour and shake off excess. Deep-fat fry at 350 degrees until golden brown.

For more seafood recipes, check out Mariner’s Menu, featuring many recipes from Joyce Taylor’s resource book, Mariner’s Menu: 30 Years of Fresh Seafood Ideas.

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