They’re multiplying at an alarming rate. They’re endangering our native fish stocks. And they have very few natural predators.
That’s why environmentalists, researchers and now some concerned chefs are trying to do something about the situation.
The concensus: create a market for this dangerous, but delicious fish. Put them on enough plates so that the exploding population of voracious predators can be controlled. At least, that’s the plan.
And according to the chefs I’ve talked with — it just might work!
That’s because lionfish do taste good. How can I explain? I’m thinking somewhere between a snapper and a grouper. Mild flavor. Appealing meaty texture. Fillets that are ideal for the grill or the pan.
If you care about health stats, I’m told lionfish are just loaded with those beneficial, heart-healthy, Omega 3 fatty acids — out scoring farmed-raised talapia, bluefin tuna, red snapper and even grouper.
What’s not to like!
I first tasted lionfish not too long ago at a special “Trash Fish Dinner” — designed to draw attention to the importance of sustainable seafood. A cause that a lot more of us should be interested in.
It was a cool event. Thanks to star chef Steven Phelps of Indiginous Restaurant in Sarasota. He put together the dinner along with the national Chef’s Collaborative organization and Edible Magazine. And for the near-capacity crowd of food friendly folks at the tables that night there was much to think about and much more to savor.
Throughout the evening as we all sipped wine and talked about each new plate from the kitchen, Phelps and a small group of like-minded chefs were combining forces to create a progression of inventive fish dishes using overlooked, local, sustainable species.
Lionfish was one of the featured fish that evening, showing up as a ceviche, in Asian spring rolls and deep fried. All were tasty, as well as interesting. But the clean-tasting citrus ceviche was my favorite.
Here’s a ceviche recipe I found that should come pretty close to that tasty Trash Fish Dinner dish. It’ll serve four as an appetizer.
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
3 Tbs. fresh-squeezed lime juice
Pinch of sugar to taste
Pinch of salt to taste
1/2 lb. lionfish fillets cut into 1/2-inch cubes
12 cherry tomatoes, stems removed and quartered
1 small, ripe avocado, pitted and cubed
1/2 cup cubed English cucumber
2 serrano chilies, minced
2 Tbs. fresh cilantro, chopped
2 Tbs. olive oil
In a nonreactive bowl, stir together lemon, lime, and orange juices. Season with salt and a pinch of sugar.
Cut fish into 1/2-inch cubes, add to the citrus juice. Make sure fish is completely covered by juice. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
In an another bowl, add tomatoes, avocado, cucumber, chilies, and cilantro, stiring well to combine all the ingredients.
Transfer fish to a colander and drain for several seconds. Then add the fish bits to the tomato bowl and mix everything thoroughly.
Drizzle with olive oil, taste and adjust with salt to taste.
Divide the ceviche among four small bowls and serve immediately.
Of course, you could use any mild fish for this recipe — but go ahead, give lionfish a try. I’m sure you’ll like it. And how can you not like the fact that you’re helping save endangered fish stocks.
One caveat: Make sure you have the freshest fish possible!
Lionfish are available at some Whole Foods locations around the country and at select environmentally concerned markets. But if you can’t find them, ask your favorite fish source to get some!