Have you ever seen a slender fish with large scales on its head that looks more like a snake than a fish? If so, then you’ve seen the invasive snakehead fish.
Don’t be so fast to throw back this unsightly fish in the future. It makes for a great dinner and has even been known to make better fish n’ chips than cod.
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Are Snakehead Fish Good To Eat?
Absolutely! Although an invasive species in North America, the snakehead is native to Asia and has been a staple of Asian cuisine for centuries. It’s even considered a delicacy in Singapore.
The Washington Post did a taste test comparing snakehead fish to cod when prepared as fish n’ chips and it was preferential to its saltwater cousin. The taste was reported to be better and it held its shape and texture better than cod.
While the snakehead fish might be ugly, it’s a good fish for eating and is worth keeping and cooking the next time you reel one in.
What Do Snakehead Fish Taste Like?
Although a freshwater fish, the snakehead is comparable to cod in flavor. It is very mild and doesn’t have much of a fish flavor at all.
Unlike the bowfin, which is commonly mistaken for a snakehead, the meat is flaky, firm, and white so you do not have to worry about it turning to mush after cooking.
Snakehead texture is comparable to tilapia but slightly firmer. So if you want a mild fish that takes on more of the flavors it’s cooked with rather than a fishy flavor, stick with snakehead.
Are Snakehead Fish Safe To Eat?
Despite their questionable appearance, snakehead fish are safe to eat in moderation. They are known to contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) which are industrial compounds found in freshwater that are not safe for human consumption in large quantities.
As long as you prepare and cook snakehead properly though, PCBs are not a concern. (We’ll get into how to do that later.)
It is important to note that snakehead fish eggs are not safe to eat. They are highly toxic, but the fish itself is safe.
Like many predatory fish, snakehead fish have mercury but eat them in moderation and you should be fine. Also, the smaller the fish, the lower the mercury content so eat smaller ones if you plan to eat a lot of them.
Are Snakehead Fish Good For You?
While snakehead fish don’t have as many nutritious qualities as some other fish, they still offer some health benefits.
Snakehead fish are high-protein, low-fat, and good for people who need to watch their fat intake or cholesterol. They are also rich in Selenium and Omega-3 fatty acids.
They are, however, moderately high in sodium, so if you’re on a low-salt diet, be sure to only eat a little snakehead at a time.
How To Prepare Snakehead Fish
Due to the presence of PCBs that build up in the layer of fat just below the skin, it is important to prepare snakehead fish properly.
To do this, be sure to remove all the skin from the fish to expose the fatty layer that runs along the lateral line of the fish. Once the fat is exposed, trim off as much of it as possible being sure to remove it from the lateral line as well as the belly flap.
Once the skin and fat have been removed, you are ready to cook the fish.
How To Cook Snakehead Fish
The most popular ways to cook snakehead fish are to blacken, fry it whole, or to prepare it like fish n’ chips.
Some alternative methods include:
Given that snakehead is a very lean fish, it’s common to add butter to it when pan-frying to give it a little added flavor.
Remember, this is a very mildly flavored fish, so it’s really going to take on whatever flavors you cook it with.
It’s important to note when cooking snakehead fish that it needs to be cooked on a rack in the oven or on a grill if it still has some fat on it. The fat will drip out of the fish when cooked on a rack allowing more PCBs to escape.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Eat Snakehead Fish Raw?
You should not eat Snakehead fish raw. A lot of freshwater fish have parasites in them that are not safe to eat uncooked. Snakehead fish can have the Chinese liver fluke parasite that can cause obstruction, inflammation, and even cancer of the biliary ducts in the liver.
Due to the potential for parasites, it is not safe to eat snakehead, or any freshwater fish for that matter, raw.
Do Snakehead Fish Have Worms?
Snakehead fish found in warmer waters can have small parasitic worms. The colder the water the fish lived in, the less likely it is to have worms.
You can still eat the meat if you see worms. Simply cut out the infected piece of meat and then eat the rest of the fish. You can also squeeze lemon juice over the fish to draw out the worms.
Thoroughly cooking the fish will kill any remaining worms and will make it safe for consumption.
Although not a popular fish to eat in Northern America, the snakehead fish is worth holding onto the next time you catch one.
Be sure to remove all skin and fat and then blacken it, pan-fry it with a little butter, or make yourself some fish n’ chips and enjoy.
It turns out this unsightly fish can be more delicious than cod.
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