What are lionfish? You’re about to find out (and with a lionfish ceviche recipe, too). With the demand for Chilean seabass, halibut, swordfish, wild salmon, and other popular fish, retail prices for premium fish are so high that you might as well go to a restaurant for it.
Fresh Direct is currently listing these per-pound prices: wild Alaskan black cod fillet, $24.99; wild Chilean seabass, $29.99 (and it’s been previously frozen!); wild grey sole, $26.99; wild halibut, $23.99; wild snapper fillet, $24.99.
Even Ora King farm-raised king salmon (not the superior wild variety) lists at $24.99.
Elsewhere, yellowfin tuna is $23.99 a pound. Dean & DeLuca is selling a 2-pound combo, 1 pound of sashimi-grade yellowfin tuna, and 1 pound California halibut, for $75.00. Whew!
We recently wrote about how trash fish, once discarded when netted along with more popular varieties, are becoming popular with restaurateurs and home cooks who want more affordable options. A fish restaurant in New York City, Seamore’s, recently opened with exactly that type of menu.
Now there’s nuisance fish: invaders that are upsetting the local ecology. The “poster fish” is lionfish.
Though beautiful to look at, they are the bane of the Caribbean.
A recipe for lionfish ceviche is below, but you can substitute any fish.
WHAT ARE LIONFISH?
Voracious predators native to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, lionfish were brought (or tagged along) to the Caribbean, where they happily hang out among the coral reefs.
They have been observed consuming fish up to two-thirds their size.
They use their long fins to herd smaller fish and then attack them.
They eat crustaceans like crabs, shrimps, even juvenile lobsters.
The population of groupers has declined drastically because they are a preferred meal for lionfish.
The invaders are able to reach sizes that are twice the typical size they reach in their home waters. Females release 30,000-40,000 eggs at a time, as frequently as twice a week.
Unfortunately, lionfish have no natural prey. None of the large reef predators, such as snappers, groupers, and sharks, appear to want to eat them.
In many parts of the Caribbean, divers are encouraged to spear them. “Lionfish rodeos,” with the purpose of population control, are becoming as popular sport fishing event in resort areas. (Source)
Should you want to join the rodeo, be advised: Many of their long, spiny fins are venomous.
TAKE A BITE
The only good news is that, once the lionfish is cleaned and the venomous spines are removed, the meat is lovely. It is a delicate, white flaky fish, firmer in texture than halibut, with a flavor profile somewhere between grouper and mahi-mahi. It readily accepts any flavor and technique a cook wishes to use.
With a new name, lionfish could become as popular as the Patagonian toothfish (renamed Chilean seabass for marketing purposes) and mahi-mahi/dorado (dolphinfish).
RECIPE: LIONFISH CEVICHE
1 pound lionfish fillets
1/3 cup lime juice
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 red bell pepper, cubed
1/3 green bell pepper, cubed
1/3 red onion, diced
1/3 avocado, diced
Small bunch cilantro, chopped
2 scallions, chopped
1/3 teaspoon Tabasco or other hot sauce
1/3 teaspoon sesame oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: fresh cilantro or parsley
 Beautiful but venomous: You may have seen a lionfish in a home aquarium, but they grow quite large and burdensome in the wild (photo © Christian Mehlfuhrer | Wikipedia.
 Lionfish have 18 venomous spines: 2 pelvic spines, 3 anal spines, and 13 dorsal spines (photo © Jayhem | photos #1, #2 and #3 via Wikipedia).
 A red lionish. Lionfish are also called firefish, turkeyfish, tastyfish, or butterfly cod (photo © Alexander Vasenin | Wikipedia).
 Lionfish tastes like a cross between grouper and mahi-mahi. You can cook it or use it raw, in ceviche or sushi (photo courtesy Euro USA).