I love fish, especially red snapper and salmon but I’ve found a new love lately: the lionfish. I’d been hearing about the lionfish since I arrived here last year but I was nervous to try it.
From news reports, I learned that the colorful spiky fins of the lionfish are full of venom and that makes them deadly to other fish and potentially dangerous to fishermen and swimmers. If stung, the venom can cause a variety of illnesses from numbness, pain, nausea, headaches, redness, dizziness, difficulty breathing, fever, and vomiting to, in rare cases, heart failure and death.
No, there was no way I wanted to endanger my health by eating lionfish.
But I kept hearing more and more from people who’d eaten lionfish, without ill effects, and my curiosity began slowly to overcome my initial apprehension. A few weekends ago, I decided to give it a try.
Found primarily in the waters of the Indo-Pacific region, the lionfish was accidentally let loose into the Atlantic Ocean in the 1990 after Hurricane Andrew damaged an aquarium in Florida. With few known predators, it has spread rapidly to the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, devouring smaller fish in its path.
Fearing that the lionfish will eventually endanger the survival of other fish, native to the area, regional authorities have been encouraging residents to eat lionfish.
When I talked to ‘Blacks,’ the fisherman I eventually bought from, he raved about how delicious the lionfish was. He talked about the flavor, tenderness and white color of the meat and compared it to the lobster. Other fisherfolk, overhearing our conversation, joined in praise of the lionfish. It was a done deal.
I bought 4 pounds and Blacks promised to ‘fix them up’ for me. In addition to its beautiful fins, the lionfish is spiny so I was only too happy to let Blacks do his thing. (Normally, I leave the head on but the lionfish is pretty bony so I didn’t mind giving the heads to Blacks. He said they could be used to make fish soup, or fish tea, as we call it here.) Blacks suggested that I steam, saute, brown stew the lionfish, or use it in soup. We went with brown stew. Here’s how we did it.
Brown Stewed Lionfish
Clean lionfish and wash with lime, score on both sides
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 stalk of escallion
1 clove garlic
1 sprig of thyme
4 -5 pimento berries
3 -4 slices of Scotch Bonnet pepper
1 1/2 – 2 cups of water
Chop onion, scallion, garlic, and tomato and set aside
Dry the fish, and rub in salt and pepper
Pour oil into a skillet and let it get as hot as possible without burning
Fry fish on both sides until golden brown
Remove fish and set aside
Pour off the oil, leaving enough to saute the onions, escallions, tomato, pepper and garlic
Return to the lionfish and add water and the rest of the spices
Reduce the flame and let simmer for about 10 minutes
Plate and serve
Brown stewed lionfish can be served with rice or a vegetable medley.
The lionfish is a delectable fish. Since that weekend in October, I’ve returned several times to buy more and have been telling friends and family about it. At roughly US$2 a pound (since then, I’ve gotten it for about $1.70), the lionfish is a dollar less than the snapper, and a steal compared to the $16 a pound it reportedly sells for in the U.S.
Would you eat lionfish?