Tastes Like Chicken! Lionfish Roundup Delivers Unique Environmental Solution
There has been a lot of talk recently about the “Lionfish Invasion” in the Caribbean and East Coast waters. Lionfish are destroying local habitats, making once pristine dive sites almost barren of local marine life. One local dive center, Discovery Diving in North Carolina, has taken action to protect the local waters. Discovery Diving is conducting monthly “Lionfish Roundups” to help with the problem.
Debby Boyce of Discovery Diving writes about the last “Lionfish Round-up” that resulted in some tasty dinners at fine eating establishments all across the country! Dive volunteers helped collect the highly-invasive lionfish and then ship quantities of the fish to chefs eager for new dishes. Debby outlines the event here:
The Lionfish Roundup trip on June 1st & 2nd was a huge success. We had 16 divers on board Monday half of the divers using nets and the other half pole spears. The three old pro NOAA divers that were with us slayed the lionfish on the first dive with pole spears, As a result, many of the participants threw away their nets and speared on the 2nd dive. Between the two days we collected 131 lionfish and we did not come close to getting them all.
We went to the Rock Pile both days, and for those of you that have been there in the past, this used to be one of the most beautiful dives we had. It was always full of big schools of purple reef fish & angles; rock beauties, all kinds of butterflies, surgeon fish, and varieties of wrasse & baby moray eels were everywhere. That’s what it used to be – but not anymore. It’s all gone. Now this is just tons of lionfish.
When we got back to the dock, the NOAA people set up an assembly line and collected the fish for research. They photographed, weighted & measured. Then we ate some and we boxed some for shipment to Chicago and NY City for those chiefs to try their hands. (Speaking of hands- 3 people were stung on the back of their hands. They said it hurt —-a lot (for 2 of them one said not bad at all). For Dean, we put his hand in hot water and in about 30 minutes it had calmed way down. He did the second dive and later that day he said it was “all right”. John said his didn’t heart hardly at all so maybe just a graze and then on Tuesday Bob got stuck and they tried a heat pack but the pressure of it hurt so they turned on the boats heater and the hot air had it gone in a matter of minutes. So we are learning.)
We ate and drank and the general consensus was they were sort of like trigger fish or black sea bass and yes some said they tasted like chicken.
A few fish went to the Sea Grant people for some of their work and a few to the Culinary School at CCC so they could try their expertise. But most of the remaining lionfish were shipped to restaurants in different parts of the country. The response from the chefs who added lionfish to the menu was very positive.
Tastes Like Chicken!!!
Sean Dimin of Sea to Table (www.sea2table.com) said, “I am writing to provide feedback for the two boxes of lionfish you packed and shipped on June 2. Both were successfully delivered to our restaurant customers in Chicago and New York. The initial responses are all very positive regarding both support for the mission at hand as well as the quality and utility of the fish itself.
The first box sent to Chicago was received by Chef Bruce Sherman of North Pond restaurant in Chicago (www.northpondrestaurant.com). Bruce sits as Chair of the board of Chef Collaborative, “the leading nonprofit network of chefs that fosters a sustainable food system through advocacy, education, and collaboration with the broader food community.” He is a great contact to help spread the word through the high-end food service community.
The second box was sent to Cookshop restaurant in New York City, one of chef/owner Marc Meyer’s three restaurants in town (http://www.cookshopny.com/100_cookshop/110_mark.htm). I was able to meet this box at the restaurant as it was delivered, see the fish myself, oversee some test preparations, and bring a few samples to another restaurant nearby- ESCA. At ESCA, Chef Dave Pasternack (http://www.esca-nyc.com/team.cfm) leads New York, and much of the country, in knowledge of fish and seafood.
All three chefs found the story very appealing from a conservation standpoint and as an opportunity to share the story with their diners. Chef Bruce in Chicago said the fish sold very well having his servers describe to diners where the lionfish came from, how it was harvested, and why.
The fish itself arrived pristine, cold, and fresh as any I’ve seen. The colors and patterns of the fish were very impressive along with their elaborate fins. The box sizes of approximately 40lbs are adequate for our restaurant’s volumes and the chefs were able to use all of the fish- fillets for plated portions and head/bones for stock- with almost zero waste. All chefs agreed the flesh was delicate with a sweet, clean flavor. Chef Dave said they were just like the scorpion fish used often in Europe, rascas, traditional to bouillabaisse, the provincial French seafood stew. All the chefs want to know when they can get more.
I’ve attached a photo from one of the lionfish we cooked whole in the kitchen at Cookshop. It is taken from a camera phone but shows a whole lionfish first scaled fresh then quickly deep fried in oil with all fins intact. It looked beautiful and tasted even better.
We very much look forward to providing markets for this unique product as well as any other catches local to you that would support your fishermen friends. We currently will have no problem selling all the larger lionfish you can get.
It was a blast and you are doing a good thing!
For more information or to book call 252-728-2265 (252 SCUBA-OK) or dive@DiscoveryDiving.com