Oscar are a South American fish that has established breeding populations in South Florida, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii.
In these areas, oscars often conflict with native fish populations, and in recent years they’ve gained attention as a fun exotic gamefish.
But what about eating them…? Are oscar fish good to eat? What do they taste like and how do you prepare them?
Can You Eat Oscar Fish?
Oscar are very good to eat. Despite their reputation as an invasive trash fish, they’re easy to catch, prepare, and cook.
Most Americans think of oscar only as a tropical fish tank denizen. However, oscar are native to South America, where they’ve long been a staple part of the local diet and where they’re considered to be one of the best fish for eating.
What Do Oscar Fish Taste Like?
The thing that many people say when first tasting oscar is that they’re surprised that it’s a freshwater fish because it tastes like it’s from salt water.
Oscar has a very clean flavor that has been favorably compared to both tilapia and grouper.
The meat, when raw, can range from white to a pale yellow. When cooked, it’s very white and flaky.
To say that oscar is moist and flaky is an understatement. The filets will literally flake apart or crumble in your hand.
The flavor is mild, with no trace of muddiness or fishy flavor that you would expect from a fish caught from the dark muddy waters of south Florida.
The filets are relatively small compared to similar-tasting fish. However, there are no limits on oscar virtually anywhere, so you can take as many as you need to make your meal!
Are Oscar Fish Safe To Eat?
There is nothing inherently toxic in the meat or organs of an oscar. They’re also not prone to contain any parasites or pathogens that can’t be killed by cooking or freezing.
In South America, there are persistent stories of fishermen having horrible reactions to oscar bites but, as innumerable aquarium owners have found out, there is nothing inherently venomous about the bite of an oscar.
These stories probably have more to do with pathogens from the water in South America getting into the bite wounds than they do with anything in the mouth of the oscar.
There is one issue with eating oscar. In the United States, and particularly in Florida, oscar are considered to have fairly high mercury levels.
It’s recommended that healthy adults eat no more than one 8-ounce serving a week, with pregnant women and children limiting themselves to once a month.
I recommend checking with the Florida Department of Health Fish Consumption Advisories for more information on mercury levels in wild-caught fish.
As long as you limit your consumption, oscar are totally safe to eat.
Why The Uncertainty?
So why do people in the United States hesitate to eat them? There are a couple of reasons.
The first reason is that most people think of oscar as an aquarium fish. They’re popular in aquariums because of their bright colors and they’re generally considered by pet owners to be fish with a lot of personalities.
In fact, the most likely reason oscars have been established in places like south Florida is due to the aquarium/aquatic fish industry where they’ve been released into the wild!
The second reason is their status as an invasive freshwater fish with no bag limit.
While colorful, they’re also slimy and have a somewhat muddy, off-putting appearance. They don’t look like a fish that would be good to eat…
Despite this reputation, they’re a very tasty and abundant fish!
Are Oscar Fish Good For You?
Keeping in mind the frequency limitation due to mercury, oscar can be a very healthy part of your diet.
Oscar are an excellent source of protein. They also provide a substantial dose of omega-3 fatty acids that help with everything from heart health to autoimmune diseases and depression.
Oscar are also an excellent source of vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for immune function and most of the population has a serious deficiency of it.
As a bonus, if you get some sun exposure while catching your oscar, that will boost your vitamin D as well!
How To Prepare Oscar Fish
It’s not necessary to bleed oscar before cleaning them.
Oscar are a fairly slimy fish with heavy, strong scales. Because of this, you may want to start with a serrated knife to hack through the skin and scales.
If you try to cut through the skin with your filleting knife, be prepared to resharpen it after your initial cuts through the skin.
Using your serrated knife, start a cut right behind the oscar’s pectoral fin. Cut up diagonally to the base of the head, then slice back to the tail along the line of the spine.
(Cleaning an oscar is very similar to cleaning black or white crappie, they have a similar body shape and thickness.)
Once you have the skin cut, switch to your sharp filleting knife. Starting from the front, begin to slide the knife back through the meat.
Oscar have a fairly large rib cage. You want to go over the top of this, and over the top of the small pin bones that are visible near the ribs, then cut back to the tail.
Flip the filet skin down and – starting at the tail – slice forward until the skin has been separated from the meat.
You’ll be left with a surprisingly large but fairly thin filet of meat. You can rinse this with cold water to remove any scales or slime. Some people also like to soak it for a while in either milk or brine, but this isn’t really necessary in my opinion.
How To Cook Oscar Fish
Its mild flavor might lead you to think that oscar would be good in any recipe.
However, because it’s so crumbly, it’s not the best fish for things like chowders or stews. Unfortunately, it just isn’t robust enough to stand up to long cooking and would disappear into your stew or chowder with very little trace or flavor left!
Oscar are best fried. Because oscar filets are fairly thin, they also cook fast.
Oscar are great breaded and deep fried. You can use simple seasoned flour, Italian bread crumbs, panko, or any other breading or batter of your choice.
Since you remove all the bones in the cleaning process, they’re great for fried fish sandwiches!
While they’re great battered and fried, oscar’s mild, pleasant flavor means that they’re also good pan-fried with some light seasoning. Butter, garlic butter, or olive oil are all great for frying oscar.
You can use whatever sauces you like on them, but be careful not to overwhelm the taste.
Oscar fish tastes great so you don’t need to conceal the taste…less is more!
How To Catch Oscars In Florida
Florida is home to some of the best fishing for invasive and exotic species, and oscars are one of many fun species to catch if you know where to look.
Oscars thrive where natural marshy environments intersect with canals. Hot spots include the Everglades, the Miami canal, and the L-67A canal.
My recommendation is to load up the truck with your favorite panfish spinning reel, grab some beetle spins, crappie jigs, a can of worms, and hit the road!
Spend the afternoon driving anywhere in Miami-Dade, Collier, Broward, and southern Palm Beach counties looking for water management district ponds, canals, retention areas, and access impoundments.
Cast your baits on the edges; weed lines, rock walls, drops, banks, and bridges. Oscars are likely to hang near structure, vegetation, and in the shade.
If you find anywhere with a running current, such as a spillway or floodgate- BINGO!
Stay safe, and have fun…And remember, no size or bag limit on oscars!
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