“You are so brave!”
The woman next in line at the Wegmans looked gobsmacked. I smiled at her as the fella behind the fish counter weighed and wrapped the fillets I had chosen. Did she find the idea of eating something called “snakehead” gross? Or was it a matter of trying something unfamiliar that gave her pause. We laughed and I headed for the cheese department.
I am, in fact, a bold eater. I’ll taste anything, particularly if I don’t know what it is beforehand. The one time I had veal brains, it was in a little bistro in Paris at the height of the mad cow disease scare. Cervelles à la meunière. It was simply delicious.
The Northern Snakehead (Channa argus) isn’t welcome in these parts, any more than Asian carp are in the Missouri River and its tributaries. Or anacondas are in the Everglades. They appeared suddenly in a pond in Crofton, Maryland, in 2002 and quickly took over the watersheds of Maryland and Virginia. Delaware and Pennsylvania struggle with them too. Snakeheads are wildly invasive, carnivorous and voracious, and with no significant predators. Snakeheads were quickly dubbed “Frankenfish;” they seemed like hybrid monsters able to wiggle their way across land from one body of water to another.
Snakeheads are, however, a tasty fish. Check out the cuisines of the Asian countries where they are native. I had heard they were good eats and I knew Wegman’s carried them on occasion. I lucked out on this visit and got about half a pound of somewhat irregularly shaped fillets.
The fish are firm-fleshed, slightly pink in color and a little bony. Next time I will get out the needle-nose pliers and make sure every single rib is removed; both of us found a few. I think they would be good rolled in cornmeal and fried or deep-fried—the catfish treatment—but this time I went with my standard recipe.
Salt and pepper the fillets well but not heavily. Start butter melting in the skillet.
Dredge the fillets in flour, shaking off excess, and set in bubbling, hot butter. Sauté about four or five minutes then turn gently and give another three or four minutes. You want the fish cooked but not dry. This isn’t a fish, like cod for instance, that is flaky and tender when it is still slightly underdone. The texture is quite firm.
Remove the fillets to a warm plate. Clean the skillet with your choice of flavors. I used a splash of fino sherry, a small amount of soy sauce and whisked butter into it to form an emulsion. I probably should have added a bit of water to create more sauce.
Serve fillets drizzled with pan sauce. A mixed salad and Bernice’s potatoes are good sides. My Dear One’s mother, Bernice, had a wonderful way of frying slices of potatoes and onions. Excellent as an accompaniment to darned near anything.
Snakehead’s not cheap, and in the end I’d rather eat something like cod or haddock or tuna or salmon, which can be less expensive. My Dear One, however, has said that while he doesn’t want to buy the fish, he is quite willing to fish for it and bring it home for dinner.
For my part and I am delighted to cook it whenever that happens. After all, in the absence of “natural” predators, we can certainly do our part.