Lionfish Lessons – Cleaning, Detoxifying, and Cooking!

Summer’s in full swing. The pilchards are thick, schoolie dolphin are rampant, and the windless doldrums have arrived. When the mid-day heat begins to melt, we don scuba gear and explore the reefs south of Fowey.

I don’t free dive much since I injured my ear two years ago, but descending/ascending slow and steady with SCUBA gear affords me an opportunity to spend quality time with reef inhabitants. I have to admit i’m dumbfounded by the quantity of lionfish I observed these past two days.  They’re literally everywhere.  Under nearly every coral/rock overhang there were one to three holding ground, fins splayed wide waiting for a chance to crush whatever wanders their way.

I made quick work of this fatty with an old pole spear.

Lionfish caught by Capt Charlie Ellis Miami, Florida

Capt Charlie Ellis with a nice Miami Lionfish

Since I rarely get to enjoy lionfish outside of the keys (lazy days in islamorada has exceptional whole fried lionfish), i figured my personal best lionfish would make a tasty appetizer. Since I didn’t know all that much about how to clean and detoxify lionfish (other than trimming fins) I turned to google for answers.

Turns out that lionfish venom quickly denatures when frozen. If you find yourself on a lionfish hunting expedition, the best thing to do is bring a cooler loaded with ice – dump an entire can of salt into the ice – then add a bucket of saltwater.  This will create an icy brine which holds temperature below the normal freezing point of water. Submerge your freshly killed lionfish in the icy brine and let them sit for at least an hour.  Then you’re good to go!

Not all the fins on lionfish contain poison – it’s only the dorsal, pelvic, and anal fins.  This handy diagram by lionfishhunters.org makes it super easy to know what you’re looking at.

how to clean a lionfish diagram

Once you’ve clipped the fins, it’s best to scale the fish since the skin is very delicate. Although you can make fillets, I’m a fan of the whole grilled or whole fried lionfish.  It’s tasty with a similar texture to hogfish!

I also found a few solid lionfish recipes while perusing the interwebs.  Here’s a couple of my favorites:

This mini season, Team Marauder will be entering the lionfish derby here in Miami!  Be sure to stop by grove scuba for more information or to schedule a trip!

Capt. Charlie Ellis

Capt. Charlie Ellis

Captain at Miami Fishing Charters LLC
Capt. Charlie Ellis of Miami, FL has 25 years experience fishing for big game species like Bluefin Tuna, Sailfish, Swordfish, and Sharks. Capt. Charlie is also an avid scuba diver, world traveler, writer, and entrepreneur.
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