It’s time for another installment of one of our most fun and informative series of articles. That’s right, we’re rolling out another edition of Bizarre Seafoods. We don’t have Andrew Zimmern, but we still do the best we can. With that in mind, we’ll get this latest edition started and introduce you to a world of culinary oddities from the deep, starting with fugu, or the pufferfish.
While we usually call it the Pufferfish here in the states, the official Japanese name of the species is fugu. They are considered to be one of the most delicious forms of seafood in the world. The only trouble is that they’re also potentially the most lethal form of seafood in the world. If you order fugu prepared by an inexperienced chef who doesn’t quite know what he’s doing, it’ll likely be your last meal. Fortunately, this situation is very unlikely to ever occur, as only the most seasoned seafood veterans are allowed to come anywhere near the fugu before it arrives on your plate.
The poison that makes fugu so dangerous is called tetrodotoxin1, which is primarily located within the internal organs of the fish. This makes it all the more troublesome, as the liver of the fugu is widely considered to be its most tasty morsel. If someone ingests the poison, they will be subjected to a torturous experience of muscle paralysis, respiratory failure, and ultimately death from asphyxiation. The cruelest aspect of all this is that the mind is unaffected, so the poisoned party remains fully conscious and aware of their ordeal throughout the process.
Fugu is a highly expensive fish and is usually caught in the eastern parts of the Pacific Ocean during the month of March. When the skilled chef manages to successfully navigate around the poison and serve the fish, it will usually be presented in the form of sushi, sashimi, in a salad, deep fried, or baked. While fugu is widely available in Japan, there are only 17 restaurants that serve it in America, with 12 of them being located in New York City2
Next up on our bizarre seafoods list is the flying fish. Its name is a bit of a misnomer, as this fish doesn’t truly fly. What it can do however is to force itself up out of the water and to glide for distances of over 150 feet, thanks to its large and wing-like fins. They mainly do this while trying to get away from larger ocean creatures who are eyeing them and sizing up their potential as their next meal. Their “flying” can sometimes work against them though, as savvy fishermen have been trained to catch them in mid-flight in fishing nets.
Flying fish live in all of the world’s oceans, but they are concentrated most heavily in tropical and sub-tropical waters. At one time, they were especially common in the Caribbean waters by the island of Barbados, spending their days peacefully swimming among the coral reefs and gliding in the warm Caribbean air. They were so beloved in Barbados that they still remain represented on the nation’s coat of arms and are the national dish3. Unfortunately, overfishing, pollution, and destruction of coral reefs led to a sharp decline in their population and now the closest to Barbados where you’re likely to find flying fish is off the coast of the island of Tobago.
In present times, when it comes to use as a food source, flying fish are very popular in Asian nations such as China, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Indonesia. In these countries, it is usually served smoked dry, in sushi or fried with local herbs and spices. At the end of this article, we’ll share with you the recipe for a more traditional Barbados-style flying fish recipe.
The next unusual seafood fare that we’ll delve into is the unappetizingly-named Asian Swamp eel. As its name would imply, it is native to the waters of eastern and southeastern Asia, though it has been introduced by man to the Florida Everglades where it is fast becoming an invasive species4
This particular eel is brown in color and is quite thin. As eels go, they aren’t a particularly long species, as they seldom reach more than three feet in length. While it has a rudimentary gill system, the Asian Swamp eel is unique among most of its eel brethren in the fact that it breathes air. Its mouth is large and equipped with a powerful set of jaws which help it to pierce its prey with its many sharp and strong teeth. As is the case with many eels, the Asian Swamp eel is a gender-fluid hermaphrodite.
Due to their tendency to live among rice paddies in southeastern Asia, they are often collected and sold along with the rice. This is most common in countries such as China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. When cooked, the Asian Swamp eel has a much more subtle and meaty texture than that of most other eels. It is usually cut up into fillets and fried. Even when it is done cooking, it will not flake apart but rather will remain firm. It is said that the taste of the Asian Swamp eel is highly reminiscent of that of the Mako shark.
The last bizarre seafood we’ll be exploring today is the lionfish. The lionfish is one of the most stunningly beautiful creatures you’ll ever find in the sea. It’s orange/red and white stripes along with its billowing fins make it instantly recognizable. Unfortunately, (kind of like what we frequently see in the human world) the most beautiful specimen are often the most deadly. This is true of the lionfish,whose body is covered in up to 18 poisonous barbs which it uses to kill its prey. This, combined with its markedly aggressive nature makes it a fish that is a force to be reckoned with.
Originally native to the coral reefs and rocky crevices located around the juncture of the Indian and Pacific Oceans5, the lionfish has spread out in recent years, becoming an invasive species. This is particularly true in the western reaches of the Atlantic Ocean. Many of them are captured and sold in the United States, as they are a highly popular and prized fish among home saltwater aquarium hobbyists.
Eating lionfish is something that people have only very recently begun to do. Fishermen are catching them in the Atlantic Ocean in an attempt to thin out their ranks and reduce the effects of their destructive behavior as an invasive species. Once its poisonous spines have been removed, a lionfish can be cut up and filleted much like any other fish6. The flesh is said to be quite tasty, presenting a pleasingly mild flavor and showing a great degree of versatility in regard to methods of preparation and presentation.
Some people remain wary of eating lionfish, even after the spines have been removed. This is because the areas of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea in which they most often dwell are filled with high levels of a neurotoxin called Ciguatera. This is a toxin that is emitted by small plants in the area and has the potential to make its way into the flesh of the fish dwelling nearby. If an unfortunate person eats a lionfish with this poison and is subject to its effects, they can plan to experience diarrhea, vomiting, tingling limbs, a reversed sense of temperature6
and the strange sensation that their teeth are falling out.
Let’s forget about that unpleasantness and move on to the flying fish recipe we promised to you earlier. This recipe comes courtesy of WorthTheWhisk.com and is called Barbados-Style Flying Fish.
Ingredients: 2 limes (cut into quarters), 1 beaten egg, 8 flying fish fillets, 1 small grated onion, 1 small chopped green pepper, salt, pepper and lime juice to taste, 1 chopped scallion blade, breadcrumbs, and a frying oil of your choice7
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients except for the fish, lime pieces, egg, and breadcrumbs.
2. Place the fillets on a plate and cover the meaty side of the fillets with the mixture from the bowl. Let them sit that way for two hours.
3. Beat the egg in a bowl and fill another bowl with the breadcrumbs. Proceed to dip the fillets in both bowls.
4. Fry the fillets in a large skillet with a shallow level of your cooking oil.
5. Serve along with the lime wedges and enjoy!7
1. Author Unavailable
2. Author Unavailable
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9 Weird Fish You Should Be Eating
Mother Nature Network
5. Henry, Wolcott
6. Aleccia, Jonel
7. Londre, Patti
Flying Fish Barbados Style
WorthTheWhisk.com, January 6, 2010