Snakehead; Scary name, scary attitude, and surprisingly delicious.
Snakehead are an invasive species in the United States but are native and a delicacy in Asia. Snakehead were believed to be introduced to the United States through illegal exotic fish dumping.
Snakehead have now been seen in 7 states since their introduction in Maryland. The largest population resides in the Potomac River drainage where they pose a large threat to the native species and ecosystems. The biggest threat they pose is an introduction to the Great Lakes where they could potentially wreak havoc on the very intricate and unique ecosystems.
Channa Argus or the Northern Snakehead are very unique fish. They have the ability to breathe oxygen and can survive out of water for 4 days. They also mature very fast and start spawning within 1-3 years. Dependent upon the ecosystem, Northern Snakehead can spawn UP TO 5 TIMES in one season from April to August, which potentially means 50,000 eggs can be laid in a season. They are very territorial during this time of year because they guard their eggs. The fry will hatch in 2-4 days and then will feed off of the embryonic sacs they are attached to. The female and male will guard these bright orange fry balls much like a female Largemouth bass. Any sort of invader is bound to get eaten.
This brings me to catching these toothy fish. TOPWATER. These fish sit in heavy vegetation, cover, and have been known to have birds, small mammals, and frogs in their bellies. Baitfish streamers, topwater frog and mice patterns, and others such as gurglers and poppers have been known to work. Along with the heavy cover and teeth, 30lb fluoro is commonly used. A wire leader could mean the difference between holding one of these slimy invaders and a lost fly. These fish may have a bad reputation and you’d think they would be easy to catch but it’s quite the opposite. These fish tend to be picky and moody. They will chase your fly all the way back to the boat but won’t eat it. If you get followed or get a short strike, change your fly and cast to the exact same area. Much like bass fishermen if a bass misses a topwater strike they can throw in a submersible bait into the same area and most likely get bit.
Now onto eating these slimy missiles of piss and vinegar. Snakehead have a slightly more firm fillet than tilapia and near-zero gaminess or fishiness. Eat the invaders is what people are calling it when they harvest these fish. So instead of giving your garden some snakehead fertilizer try filleting it up and pan-searing them.
“It is such a universal fish. If it weren’t for the name I think it would be on more menus.” “Can’t beat ’em, eat ’em,” is the slogan from Louisiana chef Philippe Parola.
“Eating invasive species is a really fun and interesting and charismatic way of attacking a very acute problem,” said Seaver, who advocates for sustainable seafood.
“Chef Chad Wells of Alewife restaurant tossed chunks of raw snakehead fish with cilantro and citrus to make something more ambitious than an $8 ceviche appetizer. It was an invasive-species eradication plan in a martini glass.”
Seaver, Parola, and Wells have been among the front lines serving snakehead on their menus. So far, snakehead has done well on restaurant menus helping combat this alien invasion.
Now if snakehead ceviche isn’t your thing these next few dishes should be simple and delicious ways to prepare snakehead.
#1 – Pan-Seared Snakehead Tacos
The most simple yet effective way to truly taste the fish is to pan-sear them. Make sure you take the skin off of your fillet. Snakeheads have large tough scales which would inhibit cooking and just wouldn’t look appetizing.
- Lightly crack salt and pepper on both sides of the fillet.
- A little bit of olive oil or butter in a pan and a fresh fillet of snakehead.
- The Pan should be at medium heat.
I’m a huge fan of a vegetal or fruit-based salsa with fish tacos. With how firm the fillet is it can hold a good amount of salsa on top without being too heavy and masking the flavor of the fish.
With all this info now all that’s left is to go catch one for yourself! Join the movement and Eat the Invaders!
Featured Image Courtesy: Fishtalkmag.com
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