As anyone that’s ever been to a Florida Keys restaurant will attest, the hogfish is one of the most popular local delicacies you’ll come across in the area. You can safely eat a hogfish, and given that the species is regarded for its unique flavor, you’re guaranteed to enjoy the experience.
The hogfish is a unique sub-species of wrasse capable of growing up to 36 inches (91 cm) in length, and has been recorded to weigh up to 24 lb (11 kg). These fish are native to the Western Atlantic Ocean, making them a relatively common sight in South America, Canada, and the Gulf of Mexico.
Since the hogfish is a keystone meal in many areas in which it resides, the species has historically suffered from the consequences of overfishing. As of 2021, hogfish stocks are regulated and protected by the local governments so as to ensure the species’ continued survival.
Hogfish is Edible, and Delicious!
Despite the fact that the hogfish isn’t particularly popular outside of, say, Florida Keys, the species is extremely well-regarded for its taste and texture. Whether it’s broiled, fried, baked, or even sautéed, the hogfish offers an amazing and somewhat unique experience to fish-lovers.
Being a saltwater fish, you’d expect hogfish to have a mild taste with an unremarkable texture, yet those who’ve tried it usually compare the meat with scallops. Hogfish meat is snow-white, with a tender, flaky texture and a sweet undertone. In fact, some claim that it’s sweeter than grouper, which would certainly make it stand out on the menu.
Interestingly, hogfish meat also has a tendency to hold more moisture while cooking than other comparable fish meat would.
All of the above combines to make hogfish a stellar choice for recipes that call for a delicate, yet distinct kind of fish meat to highlight the rest of the meal.
The hogfish is a remarkably interesting fish. True to its name, it is characterized by a large, elongated snout that it uses to rummage through the sediment looking for mollusks and crabs to prey upon. Hogfish are also easy to spot due to their vivid coloring and a visually striking set of dorsal fins.
It’s worth pointing out that the hogfish are sequential hermaphrodites: they change their sex as they mature. You’ll be able to recognize the mature specimens – males – by the dark banding featured on their heads, stretching from the snout all the way to the first dorsal fin. Mature males usually surround themselves with a harem of juveniles, making them a prime target for spear-fishing hunters.
Attempting to hunt your own hogfish isn’t necessarily a straightforward job, given the many protections that have been put in place against overfishing. Be sure to stay informed of the local laws and regulations if you’re intrigued by the prospect.
On the topic of fishing for hogfish, do keep in mind that they’re not a particularly easy species to hook ; line. They’re skittish in this regard, and you’re likely to be luckier with a spear, unless you’re a particularly experienced fisherman.
How to Fillet and Clean a Hogfish
To begin with, hold the body by the gill, using your left hand to secure it on the table and keep it from moving around while you work.
First, you’ll need to make a long straight cut just behind the pectoral fin. You want your knife to go all the way through to the spine, but no further. After you’ve made the first cut, flip the fish around and start cutting behind the head, going along the dorsal fins and all the way to the tail.
When that’s done, you should be able to lift the top fillet enough to allow you to skim the bones. Work your knife along the bones and through the skin at the belly of the fish to release the fillet.
The last step of this process will be to get rid of the tough, leathery skin of the hogfish. You can do so simply by placing your fillet down on the table white side up, pinching down the skin on one end of the fillet, and then cutting underneath the meat with your knife held at an angle.
Best Ways to Cook a Hogfish
As we already established, the hogfish is a unique kind of fish whose meat lends itself well to a wide array of different meals. Some of them are more exotic than others! Generally, you can’t go wrong with any of the ideas mentioned below.
Grilled Hogfish Sandwich
Grill your fillet as you normally would, then break the meat apart with your hands or a fork. Drizzle some lemon over the meat, and then prepare some melted cheese and grilled onions to go along with it.
Toast the bread of your choosing and then top it off with a mixture of hogfish meat, melted cheese, and grilled, caramelized onions.
Prepare fresh cilantro, parsley, garlic, lemon, and spices to taste. Add all the ingredients to your food processor and let it work them into a fine puree. Make sure to taste it occasionally to add salt and other spices as you like. If the puree ends up getting too thick, add some olive oil to break it down.
At the same time, fry or grill a hogfish fillet that’s been pre-seasoned with salt and pepper. You want the meat to cook for about 4 or 5 minutes on each side. When it’s done, use the puree as a dip for the meat.
Preheat your oven to a medium-to-high temperature, and fill up a baking tray with the vegetables of your own choosing. Cut up zucchini, carrots, and potatoes into small cubes or slices and season them to taste. Bake for 30 minutes or so, until all the veggies are evenly roasted.
Separately, prepare a bowl of cherry tomatoes, oregano, cilantro, some olive oil, and an appropriate amount of salt and pepper. Stir them as you would stir a salad, and add the mixture to your roast after you take it out, again stirring thoroughly.
Finally, fry your hogfish fillets for about 2 minutes on each side in a skillet. Once it’s done, serve it with the veggie roast you prepared beforehand.