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Non-indigenous Lionfish Overtakes Jamaica’s Waters and the Executive Chef’s Sauté Pan

As I prepare to “giant stride” into the deep off the fantail of my dive boat, Swept Away, lurking right below is my favorite fish.  The Lionfish is populating the reefs of Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Turks.  Some think the release of this Asian and South Pacific indigenous species occurred in the Caribbean Sea basin in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew destroyed the land and dispersed the reef fish in South Florida aquariums. Jamaica has been most affected by the lionfish, having no known natural predator to the region.  Jamaican fishing industry spokesmen refer to the fish traps or “pots” empty of snapper and full of lionfish.  The fishing industry and the tourist industry both rely on abundance of fish from the rich waters off the coasts. The lionfish will eat anything and is a voracious predator. They are graceful, almost hypnotizing, floating in between the fan corals and reef  ledges. Diver beware: the dorsal spines are a enticing camouflage of disabling toxin.  These spines will produce an extremely nasty reaction in humans, needing medical attention.  I still love the lionfish, just not the venom. 

Lionfish can be eaten, and with the proper training in removal and handling, is not likely to cause a problem with persons getting stung from the spines,” said Dr. Dayne Buddo, lecturer and academic co-coordinator with the National Lionfish Project at the marine lab, which is run by the University of the West Indies.  His articles to inform the nation appear in The Gleaner and more at  The Jamaican Observer.   Dr. Dayne Buddo is spearheading the National Lionfish Project, educating the nation on reducing the threat.

 Chef Anthony Miller, Executive Chef of the World acclaimed Couples Resort at Swept Away, Negril, Jamaica and the representative for Jamaica at Taste of the Caribbean Culinary Arts Competition, knows the Lionfish.  One of his restaurants: Feathers at Swept Away features this extraordinary entre item. 

In April 2011, Executive chefs from The Culinary Federation of Jamaica and respectful patrons of the food and beverage industry on the Island of Jamaica, came together in Montego Bay.    They came together to highlight the cause for “Eat what you Grow”, and Miller presented a Lion Fish action station with a great response from distinguished guests and The Minister of Tourism, Mr. Edmond Bartlett.  Some items from Chef Miller were spoons of Escovitch of Lion Fish, Curry Lion Fish, and Sautéed Lion Fish -Lemon Grass butter.

The barb-like spines are removed with wire cutters.  Chef meat cutting gloves are used. The fleshy filets are carved off the fish. They are soaked in iced water, dried and lightly dredged in rice flour. In a sauté pan, clarified butter is heated and the lightly salted and white-peppered filets are browned for three minutes, while basted in the butter. Toast-points support the filets and all is drizzled with a beurre blanc with a hint of lime.  What, no Lionfish in the supermarket fish monger case? Substitute filets of North Atlantic Flounder, (smaller is better).  The flavor is very close and the texture is right on the mark.  Notice the lack of poisonous spines?  Try the real thing at Couples Swept Away and enjoy.

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