Article contributed by K. Fischer.
“Why you throw that back mon?! You want to eat, no??”
Frequently fishing the Gulf of Mexico and Florida’s eastern coastline, I’ve often heard barracuda referred to as a smelly, slime coated trash fish, or a nuisance. I had heard nightmare stories of folks coming down with ciguatera after consuming barracuda at a local restaurant on the islands. I was also aware that the Bahamians were very fond of barracuda, as I spent a day last year holding onto a 100 yard wire, “trolling” across the reefs for them. So when Denny, one of the local fishermen I was tagging along with for the day questioned me as I threw back a small cuda I had caught, I decided to opt for the “don’t knock it ‘til you try it” motto.
We had anchored over a giant ledge on the Caribbean side of Long Island, and had spent the morning spear fishing for snapper and lobster until a large grey reef shark moved into the area and escorted us out of the water. We decided to throw out the lines and give our lungs a break. After a few minutes, we began pulling up a variety of species to add to the cooler. As I was cutting up one of the smaller porgies, I heard Denny yell, “Oh big barracuda on my line!” I looked over as he pulled up his line to reveal just the head of a large mutton snapper. The barracuda had devoured nearly all of the snapper he hooked. An idea suddenly popped into my head. I reached into the cooler and grabbed another small porgie, freshly caught and still alive, and hooked it through the tail on my larger shark rod equipped with a steel leader. Denny laughed as I flashed him a giant smile and pitched the bait out into the ocean. It wasn’t much of a waiting game.
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Seconds after that fish hit the surface, my line starting loading up and the reel started screaming… music to a fisherman’s ears. I held on tight as the barracuda shot out of the water and spiraled in the air numerous times. Denny and I were screaming and hollering like two absolute fools as that barracuda finally began to lose the fight. I eased the giant up alongside the boat as Denny shot it with the spear gun and hauled it over. It was over 4 feet long and boasted a giant mouth, full of jagged white teeth. I have always had such respect for giant predator fish, despite their reputation. I could barely hear Denny say “we gonna eat good tonight” as my heart was racing with excitement.
As we made our way back to the dock, Denny told me about a small beach bar and grille, “Tiny’s”, a few miles up the road that would grill my catch for me. After cleaning the fish, and wishing Denny a good rest of the season, I loaded up a plastic bag with a large chunk of barracuda and one lobster tail and made my way up the road to find Tiny’s. The restaurant is nestled amongst a large group of palm trees and faces the Caribbean side of the island. It is fairly small, and completely open to the ocean. A tall, bearded man behind the bar greeted me with a warm smile and firm handshake and said “looks like you’ve got dinner.”
I handed over my catch and talked with the man and his wife, who had turned out to be the owners, while the chef cooked my meal. I learned that the man was a dentist from California for many years prior to selling everything they owned to move down to experience the island life. As we talked about life, the good the bad, the lessons and their meanings, I was reminded of how much I enjoy escaping the chaos of the modern world, and getting back to the simplicity of enjoying the moment.
The smell of grilled fish and buttered lobster interrupted our conversation, as the chef set my plate down. Without hesitation, I took my first bite of barracuda. Lightly seasoned to perfection, and drizzled with olive oil and lemon, it was just as good, if not better, than any of the fish I have had. As I washed it down with a cold lager, I promised myself that I would continue to try everything at least once, and I was thankful for another successful adventure on the island.
Quick Recipe: Scale the barracuda. Cut into large chunks. drizzle with olive oil and Lightly season with salt and pepper, optional garlic salt. Grill or bake. garnish with lemon. ENJOY.
Editor’s note: The CDC recommends to limit consumption of fish that carry the toxins that cause ciguatera, especially if the fish weighs more than 6 lbs (2.7 kg), and to avoid eating the parts of the fish that concentrate the ciguatera toxin: liver, intestines, roe, and head.