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The Northern Snakehead: Can a Bad Fish Taste Good?

A predatory fish that has invaded a nine-acre Maryland pond attacks humans, has the head of a snake and the body of a fish -- and tastes like chicken.
 
 
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A new terrorist threat has been introduced to America, and it smells fishy.

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Barbecued snakehead fish

Ingredients:
1 Snakehead fish
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro
1 tbsp. lime juice
1 tsp. sugar
jalapeno peppers (to taste)
salt and pepper (to taste)

Recipe:
Lop head off fish. Chop tail off fish. Yank out entrails. Discard. Slice fish down the center. Rinse off blood and marrow. Set aside. Combine other ingredients in food processor. Brush onto fish. Allow to marinate for about 20 minutes. Place on hot grill, skin side down. Cook about seven minutes, or until raw fish look is gone. Eat, but be careful not to swallow bones.

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A scaly, sharp-toothed predator native to Asia has slowly begun invading our ecosystem and our vocabulary, with a descriptive name that can be difficult to say, straight-faced. The northern snakehead fish is known to the people of Thailand as the reincarnation of a sinner. It's known to the residents of Crofton, Maryland, as a potential threat. And last week it was known to me as dinner.

Details of the elusive and rapidly multiplying snakehead fish filled the news and topped the lists of major Internet search engines last week. Stories describe a science fiction-like monster that has invaded a nine-acre Maryland pond, attacks humans and anything else that moves, has the head of a snake, the body of a fish and can walk on land for up to three days in search of food. The resilient, air-breathing fish can thrive in any climate.

I decided it was time to know my piscine enemy.

A quick call to the local fish market put my fins in a frenzy as I learned that they do, in fact, sell whole, frozen snakehead fish. I headed over there and spoke briefly with the men in the fish department. When I asked about the snakehead fish, they laughed at me.

"She's buying it?" one fish gut-covered worker guffawed to his cohort. Because the snakehead fish is considered a delicacy in Chinese and Thai recipes, it seems these folks were baffled to see a white girl like me toting the ugly creature from their freezer.

They should have seen me gutting it.

OK, so it wasn't really me who gutted it. It was all I could do to allow the toothy fish to thaw in my sink. By the time the ice melted I'd called some strong-stomached friends over. I wasn't going to be left alone with this wide-mouthed, sharp-toothed beast, dead or alive.

We pried open his jaws, hefted his tongue, admired his spiky teeth and fist-wide mouth. Then we lopped his head off, yanked his entrails and tossed him on the grill.

He was delicious. And as much as I hate to say it, he tasted like -- you guessed it --chicken. But this is good news. See, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton is trying to make it illegal to import live snakehead fish into the country (this terrorist activity began when someone bought a couple of live ones to put into soup, and then decided to just release them into said pond).

According to the L.A. Times, Norton wants the snakehead to be added to the U.S. list of "injurious wildlife."

"These fish are like something from a bad horror movie," Norton said at a press conference. "These fish are top-level predators. They'll eat virtually anything in their path."

But it appears that even with the ban, there won't be a shortage. The Maryland snakehead fish population is already approaching 100. There's talk of poisoning the lake, but creepy fish that walk from pond to pond on their strong pectoral fins don't seem to be deterred by poison. To me, this says that our marketplaces will soon be flooded with snakehead fish, which means they will be dirt cheap and filling the bellies of hungry Americans.

So look out for them at ponds, and look for them in markets. As I see it, we might as well bite them before they bite us.

Kate Silver is a staff writer at the Las Vegas Weekly.