Exotic Seafood Survey #8: Lemonfish

Lemonfish–also called cobia or ling–is a big Gulf fish much liked by both fishermen and cooks. It grows to about 100 pounds, and when you land a nice one it’s cause for celebration. Not just because of the battle, but because of the prize. This is a great eating fish.

The fillets of even a moderate-size lemonfish can be as much as three or four feet long and four inches thick. It’s an off-white color with an excellent, firm texture and big, easily-removed bones. The name is a reference to a citrusy taste that the fish is alleged to possess, although I can’t say I’ve ever noticed this.

My peak experience with lemonfish involved a grill propped up on oak logs over a ground fire of pecan wood. It was built during a campout at a sugar plantation by a bunch of Cub Scouts. Seafood purveyor Harlon Pearce (he and I were both Scout dads) brought a large lemonfish fillet. We coated it with Creole seasoning and dropped on the grill for about twenty minutes. The outside was nearly blackened. When we cut into it and started passing it around, even people who had their doubts about such a big fish cooked that way were knocked off the stumps they were sitting on. It was the best grilled fish that’s ever come my way.

Lemonfish is almost always cut into steaks, then grilled. Well it should be. It has all the qualities you want of a grilling fish: it’s thick enough to encrust without overcooking, it lends itself to interesting seasoning levels, and its flavor is meaty. It also comes out very nice when broiled.

Recently, I’ve encountered lemonfish in sushi bars. It’s great with ponzu, green onions, and a squirt of Sriracha hot sauce instead of the usual soy sauce and wasabi

Not enough lemonfish is caught for it to be a regular menu item anywhere. But if you see it as a special or the catch of the day, get it. The eating is marvelous.

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