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Get to Know Lionfish

Get the recipe: Coconut-Curried Lionfish (Substitute Catfish.)

What Is a Lionfish?

You might recognize the striped and striking lionfish from saltwater aquariums, but these spiny fish are actually very harmful to reefs and the other animals in the ocean.

Lionfish is an invasive species in the Atlantic and Caribbean oceans, far from its native waters in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans. Since its first sighting in 1985, the lionfish population has exploded, and the fish can now be found from Brazil to New York. Because the female lionfish releases hundreds of thousands of eggs at a time, the population is increasing at a rapid rate.

These predators will eat anything they can get their mouth around, including fish, crustaceans, mollusks and octopi. And because these populations don’t recognize lionfish as predators, their future is under threat, along with the future of the coral reefs those fish help protect.

Luckily, solving the lionfish problem has a delicious solution! Since the Monterey Bay Aquarium rated lionfish "Green" in early 2016, Whole Foods Market is now able to offer lionfish in our stores, creating a market for this tasty predator and hopefully making a dent in the growing population.  

Because of their unique spiny anatomy, lionfish can only be caught  individually by spear-fishing. With no existing fisheries and supply chains available our Florida seafood coordinator, David Ventura, built a network of recreational divers across Florida who can provide enough lionfish for our stores. Working in partnership with the local community, Whole Foods Market hopes to make a difference in the lionfish population, protecting our coastal fisheries and reefs for generations to come.

How to Enjoy Lionfish

Lionfish has firm, white flesh that is slightly buttery in taste. For many it resembles grouper or mahi mahi, while others liken it to mild snapper. The difference in taste relies not only on the method of preparation, but also on what that particular lionfish ate.

While lionfish does have spines, your local fishmonger will remove them and filet the fish, so all you need to do is choose how to cook it. Keep in mind the fillets are quite small, so plan accordingly!

Like other mild white fish, lionfish can be prepared in a multitude of ways. Here are a few ideas:

  • Added to a brothy stew or curry
  • Grilled with herbs and lemon
  • Cooked in parchment packets
  • Coated in breadcrumbs and baked
  • Roasted in the oven
  • Stuffed and rolled into a roulade
  • Made into ceviche

Love to be in-the-know about food trends? Check out our What's Hot in the Kitchen series on YouTube.

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