[UPDATED] Want a Taste of Cayman? Try the Invasive Lionfish.

An invasivore's tasty poster child: lionfish

UPDATE: Our savory dish was Lionfish Escabeche served with roasted tomato & Worchestershire (Cayman-style,) as well as pickled vegetables, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, scallion, & cilantro. The fish was quickly fried and marinated in the pickling tomato juice. Also served: Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder with grits & parsley sauce, and Smoked Chocolate Peanut Butter S’more with homemade oreo-graham cracker crust, caramel sauce, peanut brittle, peanut butter, chocolate ganache, & homemade marshmallows with cocoa nibs torched a la minute. First it was the Mount Gay, Lime, & Tonic. Now I’m REALLY bummed I’m not on-island. Photos by Pascal Pernix of DART/Camana Bay can be found on our Flickr here.

There’s a new shift in the politics of food, not quite a movement yet, more of an eco-culinary frisson. But it may have staying power; the signs and portents are there. Vegans, freegans, locavores — meet the invasivores.

This excerpt from a December 31, 2010 New York Times story heralding the arrival of a new kind of sustainable diet rings especially true in the ecosystems surrounding both of our restaurants.  Case and point: Lionfish.  Native to the tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean, the fish is said to have been accidentally released from a home aquarium in Florida (ouch) and for the past several years has been invading the waters off the Florida Keys and Cayman Islands.  The good news?  It is not only completely safe to consume once the venomous spines are carefully removed, but it is good eats.

When our Grand Cayman chef de cuisine Thomas Tennant set out to create a dish for the annual Taste of Cayman food festival, held on Saturday, the “Culinary Cullers” lionfish tournament was the obvious source for a main ingredient.

He recently described how the fish can be prepared to Cayman Compass reporter Joe Shooman:

It has a nice, thin skin, and just like snapper, you can do almost anything with it; you can pan fry it, you can pan sear it, you can take the skin off, you can do tempura. Ceviche is good – it’s milder than snapper, something like tilapia, but you can have the skin. Escabeche is very nice.

From Thursday, January 27 to Saturday, January 29, more than 100 divers were assembled by Jason Washington at Ambassador Divers dive shop, in partnership with the Department of the Environment,  to remove what amounted to 300 pounds of lionfish meat for our Taste of Cayman booth. Weigh-ins took place at Camana Bay in the Crescent in front of our restaurant, and cullers could win amongst four categories including most lionfish, largest lionfish, smallest lionfish, and most overall gross weight.

Stings from the spines of the red lionfish’s dorsal fin are rarely fatal, but can be uncomfortable and cause nausea so they must be handled by licensed fishermen. In the Caribbean, lionfish have no natural predators; they are skilled at outcompeting the native species like the Nassau grouper and are eating an unsustainable amount of juvenile reef fish.

Tennant first sampled lionfish in December, simply seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil in our wood-burning oven, and the flesh was tender with a crispy skin. He’s excited to have a new fish to work with that also helps preserve the environment.  We have an email out to our fisherman George Figueroa in Miami to see about the possibility of serving them on the mainland, as well.

And… when I receive our Taste of Cayman dish description, I will update this post. (One of the downsides of not making the trip this time!)

Photos by Michael Schwartz.

4 thoughts on “[UPDATED] Want a Taste of Cayman? Try the Invasive Lionfish.

  1. Pingback: February 1, 2010 Power Rankings

  2. Pingback: Weekly Invasivore Round-up Feb. 4, 2011 | Invasivore.org

  3. Pingback: Lionfish Safari with Ambassador Divers in Grand Cayman | the genuine kitchen

  4. Pingback: Cayman Updates: Waxman, Bloomfield & Tumblring with Goldsmith |

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