Evaluating — and Eating — Lionfish

another fresh seafood idea

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Project team from left: Janelle Fleming, oceanographer; Barry Nash, North Carolina Sea Grant seafood technologist; Debby Boyce, Discovery Diving; Chef Tim Coyne and Libby Eaton, Bistro-by-the-Sea Restaurant. Absent is James Morris, NOAA. Photo by Vanda Lewis

Lionfish are infesting the Atlantic Coast of both North and South America, including off the coast of North Carolina. The invasive fish also have spread swiftly through the Gulf of Mexico and throughout the Caribbean.

Lionfish pose a significant threat to reef fish because of their high densities and general dietary habits. These fish, native to the Indo-Pacific, are known to feed on juvenile species that are important to commerce such as grouper and snapper. In the waters of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, Mexico and the Caribbean, lionfish have no known predators.

Some experts say that the only way to manage the North Carolina infestation is to develop a commercial fishery for lionfish and eat the invaders.

Janelle Fleming, scientific diver with Seahorse Coastal Consulting, presented these facts at a lionfish tasting session at Bistro-by-the-Sea restaurant in Morehead City. Tim Coyne, the restaurant’s executive chef, prepared a two-course lionfish meal — a slider appetizer and baked lionfish entrée.

The sensory session was held to determine how well lionfish could be adapted to culinary preparations typically crafted for mild-flavored, marine white fish such as triggerfish or grouper.

The lionfish, provided by Discovery Diving of Beaufort, were speared by sport divers. Discovery Diving was a partner in a Sea Grant-funded project to test various gear for selectively harvesting lionfish in deep ocean waters. The gear options were designed by James Morris, a fisheries ecologist with the NOAA Beaufort Laboratory who studies invasive species.

Forty-three self-professed seafood lovers from Carteret, Craven and Onslow counties were recruited to evaluate Coyne’s lionfish features. The participants had been involved in a similar series of sturgeon tastings in autumn 2013, funded by the N.C. Fishery Resource Grant program, administered by Sea Grant.

Tasters rated the appetizer as “very good” for flavor, texture, aroma and appearance. They liked the entrée, calling it “excellent.” Several noted the mild flavor of the meat and its flaky, firm texture.

Coyne shares the lionfish recipes below.


Lionfish Slider

Lionfish Slider. Photo by Vanda Lewis

Lionfish slider. Photo by Vanda Lewis

  • one 16 ounce lionfish fillet, cut in 2-ounce portions
  • tempura batter mix, available in grocery stores
  • 8 mini rolls/buns
  • oil for deep fat fryer
  • remoulade sauce, available in grocery stores

First, prepare the Asian slaw.

Preheat oil in deep fat fryer on high. While oil is heating, place 2 buns on each of the 4 plates with tops set aside. (Optional: lightly butter top and bottom of mini bun and toast.)

Coat front and back of lionfish with tempura batter mix. Test oil by sprinkling a touch of batter in oil. If the batter sizzles and rolls, the oil is hot enough. Turn down fryer one notch and carefully place lionfish in oil. Cook until golden brown.

Place 2 lionfish fillets on bottom of each bun. Top with a heaping tablespoon of slaw. Add one teaspoon of remoulade on slaw. Place top bun on slider. Assemble remaining sliders. Serves 4.

Asian Slaw

  • 32 ounce shredded red cabbage
  • 4 tablespoons red bell peppers, diced
  • 4 tablespoons chives, chopped
  • 4 teaspoons white sesame seeds
  • 4 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 4 tablespoons white vinegar
  • salt and pepper

Mix all slaw ingredients together. Salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for 1 hour prior to serving on lionfish sliders.


Baked Lionfish

Baked Lionfish Stuffed with Spring Vegetable Mousse Topped with Lemon-Garlic Scampi Sauce. Photo by Vanda Lewis

Baked lionfish stuffed with spring vegetable mousse and topped with lemon-garlic scampi sauce. Photo by Vanda Lewis

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 large leeks, cleaned and chopped
  • 1/2 cup red bell peppers, diced
  • 4 ounces blanched/cooked kale
  • 8 blanched/cooked spears of asparagus
  • 4 ounces blanched/cooked spinach
  • 8 ounces lionfish fillet (for mousse)
  • 1 egg white
  • 8 lionfish fillets, 3 ounces each
  • salt and pepper to taste, optional
  • paprika

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat olive oil in skillet until smoky. Place leeks in skillet to heat, but do not brown. Add other vegetables and mixed thoroughly. Remove vegetable mix from skillet and set aside to cool.

Next, in food processor, add 8 ounces lionfish fillets, egg white and vegetable mix. Pulse until well blended.

Place 4 lionfish fillets on greased baking sheet. Spoon 3 ounces of mousse on top of each fillet. Top mousse with 4 remaining fillets and sprinkle with paprika. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

While the fish is baking, prepare lemon-garlic scampi sauce.

When fish is finished baking, place serving of stuffed lionfish on each dinner plate and top with warm scampi sauce. Serves 4.

Lemon-Garlic Scampi Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons butter, unsalted
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons minced parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste, optional
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest

Heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Add butter to the skillet. Cook butter until foaming subsides. Raise the heat to high, add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add white wine and lemon juice. Boil the liquid until slightly thickened, about 30 seconds. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Stir zest and parsley into the sauce. Set aside and keep warm.

Contributed by Barry Nash

Shrimp Salad with Dill

another fresh seafood idea

Shrimp Salad with Dill. Photo by Vanda Lewis

Shrimp Salad with Dill. Photo by Vanda Lewis

Serve your fresh salad on a bed of greenery. Vary the lettuce bed for variety. Instead of the usual iceberg, try the delicate, buttery flavor of Boston or Bibb lettuce. Or use red leaf lettuce for some added color.

  • 1 1/2 pounds small shrimp
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 4 teaspoons chopped fresh dill weed
  • lettuce leaves

Bring water, garlic, celery seeds and cayenne to boil in medium saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Bring back to boil and add shrimp. When liquid returns to boil, stir and cook until shrimp are pink, about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain in a colander.

Place shrimp in medium bowl. Add celery, mayonnaise, pepper and dill and mix thoroughly. Chill well. Serve on lettuce leaves. Serves 6.

From: Mariner’s Menu: 30 Years of Fresh Seafood Ideas

Contributed by Joyce Taylor

Seafood Sightings: June 18, 2015

seafood SIGHTINGS

trout-aDuring this summer heat wave, shorten your time in the kitchen with seafood salads. Enjoy!

  • Johnson & Wales University has a great tuna salad.

Seafood Sightings: June 11, 2015

seafood sightingstrout-a

A variety of fresh seafood is coming on shore and we have recipes to inspire you!

Crab Salad Deluxe

another fresh seafood idea

Crab Salad Deluxe. Photo by Vanda Lewis

You’ll be surprised how simply seafood salads come together. If you don’t believe it, try one of our recipes such as Crab Salad Deluxe. Or create your own.

  • 1 pound lump or backfin crabmeat
  • 1 1 /2 cups chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped green pepper
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • lettuce leaves

Carefully remove any shell or cartilage from crabmeat. In medium bowl, combine celery, onion, green pepper and parsley. Add crabmeat. Combine mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add to crabmeat mixture. Mix gently but well. Avoid breaking up crabmeat. Chill for several hours. Serve on lettuce leaves or in a wrap. Serves 6 to 8.

From: Mariner’s Menu: 30 Years of Fresh Seafood Ideas

Contributed by Joyce Taylor

Seafood Sightings: June 4, 2015

seafood sightingstrout-a

Get creative this week. Check out recipes for shrimp, tuna and crabmeat, all prepared many ways. Enjoy!

Seafood Sightings: May 28, 2015

seafood sightingstrout-a

Hope you have time to pick up soft-shelled crabs while season is in full swing. Enjoy!