Is Snakehead Good To Eat?

In short, Yes, Snakehead are good to eat. Just beware of the water quality from which the fish was harvested. 

Snakehead are a staple part of diets in Asia.  Overall, snakehead is a great food fish and can be prepared in many different ways.

Snakehead Distribution

 In the US the Northern Snakehead is distributed mostly along the eastern seaboard. There are populations that have made their way inland. You can find snakehead in Illinois, California, Florida and Arkansas.

They’re likely to continue to spread with time.

Snakeheads are native to parts of Asia and Africa. They’re an invasive species in the US. 

Their ability to tolerate a wide range of water temperatures makes them likely to spread. 

Snakehead Habitat

They prefer freshwater and have very little tolerance for saltwater. You can find snakehead in rivers, streams, canals, ponds, lakes and reservoirs. 

Snakehead like to live in areas with dense aquatic vegetation. These types of environments help provide the snakehead with ambush points for feeding. They also help to provide protection for spawning. 

The snakehead is highly tolerant to waters with low oxygen content. This means it can survive in muddy water and even out of the water. This is because the snakehead has a  suprabranchial organ that can aid in aerial respiration. 

The appearance of the snakehead is well suited to an environment dense in aquatic vegetation. 

The markings include blotches along the length of the body that aid in camouflage. 

The coloration of the snakehead also helps it live in mud or vegetation dense environments. Its color can vary from a golden tan to a dark brown. There are also some greens visible on some specimens. 

The Northern Snakehead can reach sexual maturity in just 2 to 3 years. It can spawn multiple times per year and can do so over a wide range of water temperatures.

Snakehead parents will guard fertilized eggs. They will also guard the hatched young for some time. 

Both parents participate in guarding their young. However, the male parent usually takes on a more active role. The female will guard the fry further away creating a 2 layered defense perimeter.

Snakehead Taste

When it comes to eating fish, you’re usually concerned with two main factors. The first is how it tastes. 

Some people don’t like fishy flavor. They prefer a mild fish that doesn’t have any fish flavor. 

Any flavor should come from spices or sauces.

Other people like some fishy flavor. A little bit of fish flavor can be pleasant to some. It gives the fish more of a seafood taste without being overpowering. 

The second factor is texture. The texture fish meat can vary greatly.  You can have fish meat that’s very soft and flaky. If it goes to far, it can be mushy. I personally don’t like mushy fish.

On the other end of the spectrum would be a tough fish that is hard to chew. This usually happens when you overcook a fish or are dealing with an overly large specimen.

When it comes to preference, people usually want a balanced texture. Fish fillets that are flaky and slightly firm are usually a hit with diners.

So, where does snakehead fall in this spectrum. Well there is good news here. Snakehead is a fish with very little to no fishy flavor. Of course, the quality of the water you harvest your fish from will play a role.

But if you catch a snakehead from a clean river, you are in for a treat.

Snakehead meat is very flexible and is delicious prepared in many different ways. You’ll find that snakehead has a firm flaky texture. As for the taste, you will usually find that Snakehead has almost no fishy flavor at all.

Preparing Snakehead

Snakehead is a very popular food fish throughout its distribution area. There are different ways to prepare snakehead.

In this article, I’ll cover how to fillet a snakehead.

Filleting is a great way to get a semi boneless slab of meat. This can be cooked whole or cut up into chunks.

Before you start, wash down the snakehead. Try to get as much slime off of it as you can.

The snakehead’s skin is very tough. So, I recommend a very sharp fillet knife.

The Snakehead has a gin that runs the length of its body from just behind the head to the tail. 

To start your fillet, cut down with your knife just behind the gill plate. Cut all the way down until you hit the spine.

Then, pull your knife out. 

Next, insert the point parallel to the dorsal fin right where your cut is.

Insert the blade about a quarter inch down into the flesh.

Next, run the blade down the length of the fish following the quarter inch cut that you made in the previous step.

Stop when you get to the tail.

When you’re done with this part you will have a cut that is a quarter inch deep that runs parallel to the dorsal fin. It should run from the cut just behind the gill plate all the way to the tail. 

Next, you’ll continue this cut all the way through to separate one fillet from the body.

Use the tip of the blade to cut the fillet from the dorsal areas down past the spine then all the way to where the snakehead’s stomach is.

Now you can cut the entire fillet off by following this cut all the way down to the tail of the fish. 

Try to maximize the amount of flesh you leave on the fillet side and minimize the amount of flesh on the backbone side.

When you get to the tail, don’t cut through the skin.

Flip the fillet over so that the meat side is up and the skin side is on the cutting surface.

The fillet should still be connected to the tail of the snakehead. Leaving it connected to the tail will help you separate the meat from the skin.

With the fillet flipped over you can now start to remove the meat from the skin.

Starting from the tail end. Put the knife blade between the skin and meat and start cutting towards the other end of the fillet.

It’s critical to make sure the knife is as parallel to the skin as possible. 

A flexible blade helps with this. It lets you bend the blade slightly so that it can separate the meat from the skin more efficiently. 

This is why most fillet knives have thin blades.

Once you start cutting towards the other end of the fillet, the fillet will get wider. It helps to have a knife that is at least as long as the fillet.

Once you get the meat removed from the skin, you’re done with that side. Take the fillet and wash it off if needed and then set it aside.

You’re now ready to move on to the other side of the snakehead.

Flip the fish over and repeat the process on the other side. When you’re done, you should end up with two fillets that are semi boneless.

You may end up with some rib bones in the fillets. Make sure you check for these by running your fingers over the fillets feeling for them.

If you find any, you can pull them out with a set of tweezers.

You’re left with a fish carcass and you may be wondering what to do with it. 

Well, you don’t have to throw it out. You can use it for various purposes. For example, you can use the head for making soup. You can use the body too, just remove the digestive system section.

Another option is to compost the carcass. If you’re going to compost fish carcasses, you need to learn how to do it properly. Look for resources online that have instructions on this.

Once you have your fillets cleaned up, refrigerate them if you’re not going to use them right away.

Cooking Snakehead

Snakehead is a very versatile fish when it comes to cooking options. You can prepare it in just about any of the popular fish cooking styles. Pan fried or deep fried are both really simple and delicious ways to cook snakehead. I’ll include a recipe on fried snakehead below. 

Snakehead can be prepared in other ways too. You can bake snakehead as well. Baked snakehead is a great option if you’re looking for a leaner meal.

Remember not to overcook your fish. Fish is a meat that can be easily overcooked. This will result is a dry tough meat. I recommend you have a thermometer on hand to measure the temperature. 

If you’re going to pan fry your snakehead, butter is a good choice to fry in. It will add some fat to the dish. Snakehead is a lean fish so the fat from the butter will be a nice complement. 

If you’re not a fan of butter, you can just use conventional oils like olive or vegetable oil. 

Overall, snakehead is delicious in just about any preparation.

Snakehead Recipe

Everyone loves pan fried fish. And if you have some snakehead on hand, you’re in luck. 

Snakehead is delicious prepared this way!

This recipe will require a snakehead of about 5 lbs in weight. A snakehead of this size will yield 2 fillets that are about 1 lb. each. 

You’ll need some breading. The breading will coat the chunks of snakehead meat. It will provide a crispy texture to the outside that you can season to your liking. 

Breading Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups flour (or 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup cornmeal if preferred)
  • 1/2 Tsp Salt
  • 1/2 Tsp Black Pepper

Mix this combination  in a large bag for shaking.

Cut the fillets into smaller pieces that will fit in your pan. The size of the pieces can vary. Place the pieces in the bag with the breading mixture. Shake it around and make sure that the fish pieces are covered on all sides.

Put some oil or clarified butter in your pan. Make sure you have enough oil so that none of the pan is exposed. One you place the oil in the pan, heat it until it is very hot. The oil should this to an almost watery viscosity.

Remember to follow safety precautions. If you’ve never used hot oil for cooking, do some searches on how to safely pan fry meats. 

Place your snakehead pieces in the oil slowly. This will preserve the breading and prevent excessive oil popping and splashing.

Cook the snakehead for 3 to 4 minutes before flipping.

Use a spatula to gently flip the pieces of snake head over.  Cook the other side for 3 to 4 minutes.

You can expect snakehead pieces that are 1/2 inch thick to cook in 8 to 10 minutes. Make sure you check the temperature with a meat thermometer.

Check your local guidelines for safe cooking temperatures. I normally look for around 145 degrees Fahrenheit. 

In total, this recipe should take about 30 minutes to finish. This includes the time it takes to make the breading.

This recipe goes great with hot sauce. 

As for sides, your traditional french fries make a great compliment.

Conclusion

Snakehead can be a very delicious fish so long as you source it from clean waters and follow all safety precautions preparing it.

If you want to read more about eating snakehead, check out this article.

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