Venomous and predatory…sounds like dinner to me. The roar of the Lion Fish can be felt throughout the Caribbean where coastlines have been dramatically altered by this unwanted, undaunted, rapidly multiplying spiny creature. Chefs who tire of traditional proteins, and who seek unique items to challenge their repertoire, are turning to invasive species to distinguish their menus and to save the environment.
Tonight’s dinner at Jade Mountain in St. Lucia is a romantic setting fit for The Bachelor. Seated torch-lit on the beach, we’re enveloped in a golden hue. As we’re told, the story goes that during Hurricane Andrew, Florida’s public aquariums and the private tanks of drug lords were smashed, unleashing the un-tameable Lion Fish into the Gulf of Mexico to wreak irrevocable havoc on the aquaculture and coral reefs of the Caribbean coastlines. They have no known predators and are very painful to human touch. Their proliferation has been exponential, and they’re not easy to catch. But, one of the most prolific human behaviours is to eat a species to extinction, so innovative and environmentally conscious chefs like Chef Allen Susser, who focus on “conservation cuisine,” are now serving Lion Fish.Our multi-course menu includes delicately steamed Lion Fish with a peppy green mango salad, meaty pan-grilled Lion Fish lavished with coconut and carrot-ginger sauce, and a light but hearty Lion Fish stew seasoned with cinnamon and chilies. This is a tender and versatile fish, reminiscent of crab in the first dish, halibut in the second, and cod in the third. The flavour profiles enabled by the island’s ingredients and the chef’s creativity show a wide range of how Lion Fish can be presented, and why it is so vital for us to be consuming this fish in place of tuna and salmon that are being completely over-fished to dangerously dwindling numbers.
Lion Fish have a total of eighteen poisonous spines: thirteen dorsal, two pelvic, and even three anal. Their native predators range from eels to barracuda, large grouper, and some sharks, but typically, it’s difficult for any living creature to get close to one. New methods of trapping have been successful for long-term culling, and from Florida to Columbia, campaigns to promote consumption of Lion Fish, as well Lion Fish as jewellery and even leather from Lion Fish hides, have been vital for local economy, ecology and gastronomy.
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Publisher of DINE and Destinations magazine.