Lionfish Safari!

“Vegans, freegans, locavores – meet invasivores,” proclaimed the New York Times in December 31, 2010.  Down here in Miami, and all up and down the eastern seaboard, we have a lion of an invasive fish. Literally, the lionfish.  The species was allegedly released into the wild in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew, which devastated Miami, destroyed a fish tank.  Since then, the non-indigenous lionfish have had no problem multiplying for the troublesome reason that they have no natural predators in the Atlantic.

The fish are native to the western Pacific, and they are quite a popular sighting for divers from the Maldives to Thailand, peacocking their venomous spines, which are described as an excruciatingly painful sting that can induce nausea, but has yet to be documented as fatal.  Here on our side of the world, the problem grows each year as these bold invaders flourish off the baby fish that maintain our reef ecosystems.

There is a bright side – they’re tasty!  Professional divers have devised safe and simple methods to spear and handle them.  After dangerous spines are carefully removed, their white, flaky, and snapper-like flesh proves to be an ideal canvas for chefs.  Taking the idea full circle, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami and Grand Cayman, known for chef/owner Michael Schwartz’s emphasis on serving fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, is teaming up with Ambassador Divers in their island location for the Lionfish Safari package — a two-part excursion where a custom menu of lionfish dishes is the tasty reward for adventurous guests after a day out on the water culling this invasive species with professional divemasters.

The fish has been served in the restaurant as escabeche, fried until crisp and tossed into sliced mango and greens as a salad, and roasted simply in the wood burning oven with lemon, olive oil, and freshly cracked pepper.  The excursion can be booked any day of the week excluding Fridays by calling Ambassador Divers at 345.949-4530 or 345.916.1064.  Guests will be picked up from their hotel at 7:45 a.m., returning to the dock at noon. Price is US $1,200 for up to 6 people, which includes a privately-chartered boat, tanks, all dive gear, and a multi-course meal that same evening at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink with a champagne toast.  For more information, please visit and search “lionfish.” The issue is still at large, and will continue to be, so why not do our part?  I say, if you can’t beat ‘em- eat ‘em!

Escabeche is a classic Spanish preparation in which you sear fish or meat, then marinate it in a vinegar sauce until it’s pickled. Unlike ceviche, which is raw fish “cooked” in citrus juice, escabeche is cooked first. The bracing and acidic vinegar cuts through oily fish such as kingfish (also called king mackerel) herring or bonito just perfectly; and if you can find lionfish, it is a star. This super simple dish makes a light, flavorful starter that wakes up the taste buds and hits the spot on a hot day.


1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 3 ounce skin-on lionfish fillets (1 inch thick) or kingfish or mackerel fillets, skin removed
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 carrot, thinly sliced on a mandoline
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon agave nectar
2 teaspoons mustard seeds, toasted
1 bay leaf
1 fresh thyme sprig
2 cups 1-inch diced ripe avocado
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh cilantro leaves

Combine the flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper on a plate.


Dredge the fish fillets in the seasoned flour, tapping off the excess.


Place a large skillet over high heat and coat with the vegetable oil. When the oil is shimmering, lay the fish fillets in the pan and cook for 5 to 6 minutes. You want a good sear, so don’t move the fish around, just let it do it’s thing. Turn the fillets over and sear the other side for another 2 minutes until just about cooked through.


Remove the fillets to an 8 by 8-inch baking dish. Scatter the carrot, onion, and pepper on top of the fish and set aside.

5[/num]Place a small pot over medium heat and add the vinegar, 1/4 cup of water, agave, mustard seed, bay leaf, thyme, and remaining teaspoon of salt. [num]6

When it reaches a boil, pour the marinade over the fish and cover with plastic wrap. Marinate at room temperature for at least 1 hour or up to

overnight in the refrigerator. If chilling, bring to room temperature before serving.


To serve, discard the thyme sprig and bay leaf. Divide the fish among 4 small plates and spoon the

vegetables and their marinade on top. Scatter some chunks of avocado on top. Drizzle with olive

oil and garnish with cilantro leaves.