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 should either steam, saute, brown stew the lionfish, or use it in soup. We went with brown stew. Here’s how we did it.
- 1 lb. lionfish
- 1 large onion
- 1 stalk of scallion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 large tomato
- 1 sprig of thyme or 1 tsp leaves
- 4-5 pimento berries
- 3-4 slices of Scotch bonnet pepper
- 1 1/2 - 2 cups of water
- 1 tbsp Vinegar (optional)
- 1 tbsp Ketchup (optional)
- Clean lionfish, wash with lime.
- Score on both sides
- Mix salt and pepper in a small dish, set aside.
- Chop onion, scallion, garlic and tomato and set aside.
- Dry the fish and rub in salt and pepper mixture into the scores and on the inside of the fish.
- Pour oil into a skillet and allow it to get as hot as possible without burning.
- Fry fish on both sides until golden brown.
- Remove and set aside.
- Pour off the oil, leaving enough to saute the chopped onions, scallions, tomatoes, pepper and garlic.
- Return the fish, add water and the remaining spices, including vinegar and ketchup, if needed.
- Reduce the flame and let simmer for about 10 minutes or until you get a delicious brown gravy.
- 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?