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Eating Lionfish

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Sotuhern Fried Lionfish NuggetsCan you eat lionfish?” seems to be the most common question we still hear while talking to people about the lionfish invasion. The answer is a resounding

Yes, people do eat lionfish and they are delicious!

… and eating lionfish is great for several reasons:

Eating non-native lionfish is good for the environment. It is the ultimate in responsible seafood selections because removing lionfish helps our reefs and native fish stocks recover from environmental pressures, lionfish predation and overfishing. Eating non-native lionfish into extinction would , in this case, be a very good thing.

Eating lionfish is a healthier choice than most other fish commonly served in restaurants like snapper, grouper, dorado, wahoo, amberjack, tunas and billfish. Lionfish have been shown to be higher in heart healthy Omega 3 fatty acids, lower in saturated fats and heavy metals such as mercury.

Red lionfish and the Devil Firefish cannot currently be farmed and commercially cultivated, when you eat lionfish you are supporting local fishermen and divers who recognize the danger to their livelihoods, are practicing sustainable fishing methods and making smart decisions! Eating lionfish means that you are putting money back into the local economy, joining an important cause and supporting worthy people!

Did I mention that lionfish are delicious? If you like to eat fish, I am certain that lionfish will rank near the very top of your favorites list!

Obviously the most obvious question is, “Are lionfish poisonous to eat?

The answer is a very simple, “NO.” Many thousands of people have eaten lionfish and hundreds of restaurants serve lionfish on their menus in dozens of ways. We have not heard of one food-borne related illness having been reported as it directly relates to properly prepared lionfish. Only the spines contain the venom everyone seems well aware of and even “fresh” venom would not cause poisoning if it were ingested. There is no poison in the flesh of the lionfish meat at all.

The second question we most often get about eating lionfish is, “What does lionfish taste like?”  We’ve prepared an entire article about what lionfish tastes like but, in short, I like to sum it up this way:

Fresh Lionfish Fillets Ready to Be Served as Sashimi

Lionfish is a white flaky fish, firmer in texture than halibut, no “red line” with a flavor profile somewhere between a thin grouper fillet and mahi mahi (dolphinfish or dorado depending upon where you live) with a touch of butteriness.

Others, of course, have their own descriptions but I’ve not come across anyone that otherwise likes to eat white fish who doesn’t like eating lionfish, too!

It’s certainly better than tilapia (BLECH!).

Other questions we get are about getting lionfish fillets or where they can try lionfish. If you want to eat lionfish, we have compiled a growing list of local restaurants that serve lionfish when they have them available (if you know of a restaurant that belongs on the list please let us know).

If you want to get fresh lionfish you will most likely have to hunt lionfish and catch them on your own or, if you live in an area that is affected by non-native lionfish, you can also go to a local dive shop and ask them for a referral to a diver who is actively hunting lionfish; perhaps you can score some from him or her. Other than in the Foster’s Food Fair chain of grocery stores in the Caymans, I am not aware of any other “inland” grocery stores or seafood markets where it is sold at retail.

If you are brave enough to catch a lionfish on your own but have no experience in cleaning, filleting and preparing lionfish, you will want to check out our preparation page before handling them too much; lionfish are easier to clean and fillet than you might imagine once you get beyond the tricky parts.

Grapefruit and Plum Lionfish CevicheLastly, what good would going through all of the trouble to get lionfish if you didn’t know how to best prepare them? A general rule is that any of your favorite recipes or cooking methods that works well with any other white-meat fish will work wonderfully with lionfish as well. The most common ways to eat lionfish seem to be in ceviche, fried or raw, sushi or sashimi-style; my favorite is to eat lionfish sashimi – it needs little else than a bit of wasabi and soy sauce for my taste. Why not get creative though???

Here is a collection of our favorite lionfish recipes and if you have one you’d like to add, please send it to us through our contact page. We’d love to feature it on our website and give you all the credit for your culinary creation!

About the Author:

L. Scott Harrell is the former Executive Director and co-founder of the World Lionfish Hunters Association. He now works with restaurants and dive centers to develop lionfish related profit centers. Scott has been a scuba instructor since 1995.

Comments (20)

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  1. Joseph Cotton says:

    Hi Scott, I am the Executive Chef at the National Aquarium in Baltimore and in need of Lionfish for a fresh thoughts seafood dinner .Can you help me get some ?Call me please 1-443-478-6704

    • sandi roth says:

      I don’t know of a restaurant. You may try Matt’s Casbah in Melbourne. As far as buyng it, you can get FRESH lion fish at Amazing Seafood on the corner of US1 and Babcock. At Matt’s ask for Matt and at Amazing Seafood as foe Yari. In both places tell them Sandi sent you.
      Good luck

  2. Chiffone says:

    I live in Melbourne, FL. Where can I buy Lionfish to cook?
    What restaurants serve it? Thank you

  3. Looking into trying this here (Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada) is there any portability of shipping lion fish fillets, frozen up here?

  4. bruce says:

    crabby bills seafood shop @ indian rocks beach,fl. had lion fish for sale on aug 7, 2014

  5. David says:

    Captain Clays in Delray Beach has had it and told me it was delish

  6. Mary Medlin says:

    I just purchased some fresh lion fish fillets at Pelican Seafood, how would you cook them? Thanks, MM.

  7. jpickles says:

    You can get lion fish at a few of the Asian stores in South Florida… fresh live conch, too!

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