I admit that when it comes to eating fish, I am a snob. As an inshore angler, this means I only eat fresh redfish, snook and trout. For those not familiar with a lizardfish, the fish does not belong on a grill or in a frying pan. Its name refers to its mottled brown and whitish coloration, long slender body, large pair of eyes, and wide gape mouth lined with numerous small teeth. If it had legs, it might be confused with a real lizard.
All the fish reference books in existence state that the lizardfish has poor food value, spoils quickly, and the species name, foetens, refers to their foul smell when they decompose. My earliest memory of the lizardfish goes back to the mid-1950s while fishing with my father in Flamingo. He would call these fish “Jonahs,” probably in reference to the outcast biblical character and the term referring to a person whose presence on board brings bad luck and endangers the ship.
While fishing the waters of Tampa Bay with my brother and son, we often make a contest out of everything. Once such game we play is that whoever catches the first lizardfish has to buy dinner. In between catches, we concluded that lizardfish probably would be best consumed on an episode of Bizarre Foods. My brother John suggested that if we renamed the species something like “chocolatefish” then the critter might sound much more palatable.
I pride myself at being fair and balanced toward exotic foods and will taste unusual items before judging their quality. So for some time now I have been waiting for the ideal opportunity to taste the flesh of a lizardfish.
Fortunately, the opportunity presented itself during a recent trip off Cedar Key. I was fishing a small pink stickbait over a deep grass flat when I hooked what I thought would be my first keeper trout. Unfortunately for both me and the catch, the fish turned out to be an impressive lizardfish of about 20 inches in length. I say unfortunate for the lizardfish since it was nearly noon and the cooler was barren, so I quoted Santiago from Hemmingway’s Old Man and the Sea and told the lizardfish, “Bad news for you, fish.”
Back at home, I prepared the ice-cold lizardfish. The flesh was firm, small grained, and clear with a slight greenish tint. Unfortunately, the long body does not yield a lot of meat. In addition, the fish has numerous pin bones along the midline extending toward the tail. After removing the scales and entrails, I had a meal ready for the broiler. I usually enjoy my fish breaded with tartar sauce, but for this experiment I decided to sample the lizardfish with nothing to conceal the taste, good or bad. I slowly picked a piece off the broiled bruiser, momentarily held it in front of my mouth, then bit off a piece and waited slowly for my taste buds to savor the flavor. Surprisingly, the lizardfish tasted great! It reminded me of flounder in both texture and taste.
I told my brother about my experiment, and he came to the conclusion that I have hypogeusia or a similar disorder resulting in a reduced ability to taste. Whatever the case, I don’t think there will be a rush to commercially harvest lizardfish for shipment to overseas fish markets where their own marine resources have become severely depleted. Until then, sleep well lizardfish…your secret is safe with me.