When I hear the word barracuda, I think of the former Alaska governor Sarah “Barracuda” Palin, who somehow fell into her nickname in high school because of her skills on the basketball court. The Republican National Committee even played Heart’s song Barracuda at their convention, which really pissed off Heart. I think it’s odd, however, that Ms. Palin would invite the media to refer to her by her old high school moniker — she with the designer glasses and stiletto heels — as an actual barracuda is one ugly fish.
For someone as food obsessed as I am, the fact that I think of a politician instead of barracuda meuniere, or some other dish, must mean that that Mr. Ugly Fish just hasn’t been on my culinary radar. So when I was in Berkeley Bowl West a couple of weeks ago, checking out that great fish selection, I was surprised and intrigued to find barracuda cut into thick steaks. I had never seen barracuda for sale before, so asked the butcher about it. He had just told me all about the halibut they had, going through the fish monger motions of detailing where it came from, if it had been frozen, etc. But when I asked about the barracuda, his eyes lit up and a slow smile spread across his face. “I had some last night,” he said excitedly while leaning over the counter. “And it was fantastic.” Obviously, the halibut was a distant memory and I quickly asked for four pieces of barracuda.
Not sure what to do with this unexpected haul, I went online once I got home to look up some recipes. I was surprised to find that other than some sport fishermen sites, there really weren’t any food articles available. Most cooking blogs, Epicurious, All Recipes, and even The Food Network haven’t seemed to discover barracuda yet. There were a few recipes (barracuda burgers seemed the most popular choice), but the majority were for a cocktail made with vodka and Southern Comfort (which sounds terrible). I stared at my computer and started to doubt my purchase. I mean, if I couldn’t Google a recipe, then no one was writing about this fish. And if no one was writing about it then I was either lucky enough to have struck upon something unique and wonderful, or, more likely, I had just purchased a fish most people considered inedible.
I went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch site and looked up Barracuda. The result was interesting, but a little vague. It classified barracuda as Wahoo, saying it was often sold as Ocean Barracuda and listed the fish as a Good Alternative, which means it won’t kill you and isn’t endangered. So far so good. But when I called Berkeley Bowl and talked to someone in the fish department, she said that what they sold was definitely barracuda and not Wahoo. Wikipedia then warned me that the great barracuda has “been implicated in cases of ciguatera food poisoning.” It’s always bad when Wikipedia says your dinner can kill you.
Deciding that I would trust Berkeley Bowl — I mean, selling poisonous fish would be bad for business, right? — I decided to cook it up anyway. The fillets were thick and had the consistency of fresh wild salmon — dense with an oily silver skin that looked rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. I decided to grill the steaks with just a bit of olive oil, lemon and parsley. I wanted to experience the real barracuda flavor and so didn’t want to smother it in a sauce or even butter (no barracuda meuniere for me). After grilling it as one would salmon fillets, and preparing a nice grilled asparagus and fig salad to go with it, we were ready to dig in.
The barracuda was surprisingly flaky while also being incredibly substantial. It didn’t fall apart as many fish do after cooking and the meat felt almost plump. The flavor was mild, with a very nice fresh fish taste. I was interested to see that barracuda also presents well because the bone structure holds all the meat together beautifully, so it’s a good choice to serve to guests.
Overall my family and I really enjoyed our barracuda dinner. The flavor and texture were appealing, and it was fun to eat something a little different. Now maybe I can wipe my mind of old Sarah Barracuda.
Makes: four steak fillets
4 barracuda steaks
2 lemons (preferably Meyer) zested
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Mix the lemon zest, olive oil and chopped parsley together. Season with salt and a little black pepper. Coat each side of the barracuda steaks, using about half the mixture. Refrigerate and marinate for at least a half hour or up to one day.
2. Heat your grill to high.
3. Lay the barracuda steaks on the grill and lower the heat to medium.
4. Cover the grill and cook for 7-8 minutes. Flip and grill the other side for 7-8 minutes or until the inner flesh is flaky.
4. Remove the fish from the grill and top with the remaining olive oil and lemon sauce.