EAT AN UGLY FISH!
Most grocery stores have at least a small selection of seafood. Throughout the United States, in most cities, towns, and villages, you will find a supermarket that has at least a few packages of salmon and shrimp. You will find tins of sardines, anchovies, and smoked oysters. You may find a reasonably broad selection of frozen option as well. If you are lucky enough to live in a coastal city, you will probably find a little more depth. You may see swordfish, tuna, snapper, rockfish, and halibut. You may see mussels and clams or crabs and lobsters. I highly recommend that you try everything your local supermarket has to offer, but this double dog dare is about the selections beyond what your standard grocer will stock.
For this double dog dare, you will need to go to a market that stocks whole fish. It is one thing to buy a perfectly trimmed white fish fillet with no skin or bones. It is something entirely different to find a real life sea monster in the case and say, “I’ll take that one.” For this challenge, I hope that you will confidently walk into a seafood market and find a fish that you have no idea what to do with. Then buy it and go home and figure it out. Bonus points if you buy it whole and then break it down on your own, but it’s OK if you aren’t ready for that. The goal here is to show you that culinarily, creepy looking fish are no more difficult to cook than standard looking fish. They are also not really that different tasting.
So, what defines an ugly fish? Personally, I think they are all pretty cool, but I define it as any fish that doesn’t fit the standard cheese goldfish shape. You could choose a living dinosaur like the sturgeon, a fish that looks like it has armor on it’s sides. You could choose any odd shaped fish, like the long and skinny belt fish or the frog-like sea robin. Any of the various flatfish would work. Shiny and odd-faced lookdowns or John Dory fish are certainly interesting. Or you could go for the mother of all sea monsters and eat a monkfish. Monkfish are terrifying in the wild and then when the meat is processed, the meat itself looks ugly. It looks a bit like a smoker’s lung, but it tastes like a lobster. If you trim it up, cut it into chunks, bread it, and fry it, even little kids will love it.
This week, I challenge you to buy one of these ugly buggers and give it a try. At the very least, you’ll walk away with a good story and a few good pictures on your cell phone. Below is a list of recommendations beyond the ones mentioned above. Taste-wise, nothing here is that different, but the appearances vary widely.
Lingcod – This fish has huge teeth and is a voracious predator. Some specimens are blue, with blue eyes, blue tongues, and even blue meat.
Sculpin – These big headed bottom dwellers are covered in spines and have big eyes. They don’t yield a ton of meat, but they are cheap and tasty.
Shortspine Thornyhead, AKA Idiotfish – My local market calls these chuckleheads. They are bright orange or red and have huge eyes. They are covered in spines and they grow quite large. The meat cooks up about like grouper and is very mild.
Lionfish – These are easy to find in the gulf coast when the weather is warm, but tougher in the winter. They are anything but ugly. They are however, oddly shaped and intimidating to work with, so they count. They are also invasive, so you do the ocean a favor when you eat one. They taste like little snappers, but maybe have just a little stronger flavor.