Coastwatch Autumn 2013
MARINER'S MENU: Ingesting Invaders: Serving Up Lionfish

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COASTWATCH Autumn 2013 Issue | Story by E-CHING LEE

Lionfish can easily be substituted for white fish, such as flounder, grouper and snapper in your recipes. Photo credit: Vanda Lewis.

Lionfish are beautiful, poisonous, invasive — and delicious. These Indo-Pacific fish now thrive in reefs off the coast of North Carolina, where they find an abundance of food and shelter, and no natural predators. In fact, some researchers report that the lionfish off the state's coast have excessive amounts of fat, likely caused by easy living conditions.

Some coastal restaurants, such as Bistro by the Sea in Morehead City, are trying to help reduce the population of this species by serving up these fish to eager diners (see the Coastwatch article, Local Catch: Hunting Lions).

In the Coastwatch article, How to Dress and Fillet Lionfish, Barry Nash, North Carolina Sea Grant's seafood technology and marketing specialist, demonstrates how to dress and fillet the fish. Once the venomous spines are clipped, treat lionfish like any other white fish — moist, tasty and easy to prepare.

Here are some lionfish recipes, adapted from the Mariner's Menu: 30 Years of Fresh Seafood Ideas seafood resource book by Joyce Taylor. If you cannot get lionfish, substitute with any white fish, such as flounder, grouper or snapper.

To get a copy of Mariner's Menu, check your local bookstores. Or to order a copy from North Carolina Sea Grant, call 919/515-9101. For more ideas and recipes, check the Mariner's Menu blog at


Fresh herb mayonnaise is a nice complement for this lionfish recipe.

• 6 small lionfish fillets

• 2 tablespoons margarine or butter, melted

• salt

• freshly ground black pepper

Prepare Fresh Herb Mayonnaise and refrigerate.

Brush fillets with melted margarine. Lightly salt and pepper. Place in lightly greased baking dish.

Bake at 450 F until done, about 6 to 8 minutes. (Note: Look at the size of the fillets to determine cooking time.)

Place on serving dish and serve with Fresh Herb Mayonnaise.

Fresh Herb Mayonnaise:

• 1/2 cup mayonnaise

• 1 tablespoon minced shallots

• 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives

• 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

• 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil

• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

In small bowl, combine mayonnaise, shallots, chives, parsley, basil and pepper.

Cover and refrigerate. Serve with hot fish.


Lionfish is a versatile white meat that can be used in many recipes.

• 4 medium lionfish fillets

• 4 tablespoons margarine or butter, softened

• 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

• 4 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions, including tops

• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

• 2 tablespoons melted margarine or butter

• salt

• freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, combine 4 tablespoons margarine or butter, cheese, green onions, lemon juice and parsley and set aside.

Place fillets on greased broiler pan. Brush with melted margarine or butter. Lightly salt and pepper. Broil about 4 inches from heat until almost done, about 6 minutes. Spread with cheese mixture and continue cooking until cheese melts and is golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes.


Fresh tarragon adds flavorful depth to this lionfish dish.

• 1 1/2 pounds lionfish fillets

• 1/2 cup margarine or butter, softened

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1 teaspoon paprika

• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

• 2 tablespoons minced green onion

• 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

• 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon

• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

In small bowl, combine softened margarine with salt, paprika, pepper, onion, parsley, tarragon and lemon juice.

Place fish on lightly greased broiler pan. Spread with half of the margarine mixture. Broil about 4 inches from heat until fish is done, about 5 to 6 minutes. Spread again with margarine mixture about halfway through cooking time. Serve with pan juices, if desired.


The lemon, butter and herb sauce enhances the delicate flavor of the sautéed lionfish.

• 1 1/2 pounds lionfish fillets

• 1/2 cup flour

• 1/2 cup dry French bread crumbs

• 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

• salt

• fresh ground black pepper

• 2 tablespoons canola oil

• 3 tablespoons margarine or butter

• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

• 4 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

• 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

In a shallow dish, combine flour, crumbs and cayenne.

Lightly salt and pepper fish. Dredge in flour mixture.

Heat oil in large skillet to 375 F. Add 2 tablespoons of margarine or butter and melt. Sauté fish, flesh side down, until done on one side, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and repeat on other side.

Remove fish to serving dish. Add lemon juice, chives, parsley and remaining butter to skillet. Stir well and heat. Pour over cooked fish.