- May 31st, 2010
- in Yachting
‘This is good eating,’ whispered Taki to my surprise, for the fish, if anything, looked highly poisonous…I wanted to know why, if it was poisonous, it was supposed to be good eating.
‘Ah,’ said Taki, ‘it’s only the spines. You cut those off. The flesh is sweet, as sweet as honey. I will give it to you to take home with you…Tell your mother,’ he said, ‘to cook it with hot paprika and oil and potatoes and little marrows. It is very sweet.’”
– Gerald Durrell, Birds, Beasts and Relatives
Lionfish sightings have been a topic of much discussion and concern in the BVI lately—and for good reason. Native to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the voracious lionfish have no natural predators in the Caribbean Sea. Humans are the only real predator for this invasive species.
When my editor Traci mentioned that Yacht Guide was interested in articles about lionfish due to the recent sightings in the BVI, she asked if I could include lionfish in one of my recipes. I stared at her with a mix of curiosity and horror, wondering if she was joking. (She was not.) I had heard a little about lionfish and immediately the word “poisonous” came to mind. So why was Traci talking about eating lionfish? Obviously, she knew something that I did not.
As it turns out, lionfish is venomous and can cause serious discomfort to humans, but it is not poisonous. And the toxicity is present only in the spines, not the flesh. The fish must be handled carefully, and the spines must be removed by someone skilled in handling dangerous fish. Once the fish have been properly cleaned, though, the flesh is edible and apparently quite tasty. The flavour is described as mild and slightly sweet with flesh that is firmer than snapper.
While lionfish are new to the Virgin Islands, The Bahamas are already experiencing huge ecological, and potentially economic, problems due to this invasive species. Ironically, the delicious taste of the fish is a major factor that may curtail the growth of the species in the Caribbean Sea. Fisherman in The Bahamas have been finding a ready and eager market for their lionfish catches, and Caribbean and American restaurant-goers have been intrigued by this new and tasty addition to menus.
Unfortunately, I’ve had no success procuring lionfish to sample and test for recipes. Outside of Asia and The Bahamas, there’s limited commercial distribution of the fish. In fact, the fishmongers I contacted regarding purchasing lionfish found my request to be downright crazy. One suggested I order his scorpion fish, a scary-sounding fish that is in the same family as lionfish. The others told me to travel to South Florida or The Bahamas if I wanted to potentially find the fish available for sale. On the one hand, I’m disappointed that I cannot taste lionfish, since I like sampling new and exotic foods, and reef fish are generally quite tasty—think of snapper, grouper and trigger fish. Then again, I’m glad that lionfish are not abundant enough (and hope that they never will be) to make their way onto menus in BVI restaurants. I’m perfectly content to keep eating snapper, mahi and other local favorites and forego lionfish in the BVI forever.
This may seem like a large amount of spices but be sure to use the all the spices for the full blackened effect.
• 2 1/2 tsp paprika
• 1/2 tsp garlic powder
• 1/2 tsp oregano
• 1/2 tsp thyme
• 1/2 tsp black pepper
• 1/4 tsp kosher salt
• 1/4 tsp sugar
• 2 snapper fillets – about 6 oz each
• Olive oil
Combine all spices in a bowl. Brush a small amount of olive oil on both sides of each fish fillet. Evenly rub the spice mixture onto the fillets.
Place 2 tsp of olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is ready and starting to sizzle, place the fillets in the hot skillet. Cook until the fillets turn black, about three minutes on each side. When done the fish should flake easily when tested with a fork. Serves two.
Other options: Blackened snapper makes a delicious fish sandwich with mayo. Alternatively, take advantage of this month’s in-season mangoes by serving the fish with a fresh mango salsa.