Spoonbill fish, also known as paddle fish, are large freshwater fish with firm white flesh and a rich fatty flavor. Like sharks, they contain only cartilage -- no bones -- making them easy to fillet. Cook spoonbill fish by boiling, steaming, deep frying, pan-frying or grilling to take advantage of the firm flesh.
Preparing Spoonbill Fish
Whole or Filleted
Spoonbill fish can grow to anywhere from less than 10 pounds to more than 65 pounds. The smaller the fish, the less fishy the flavor. When preparing spoonbill fish, fillet the fish and trim off any red or grey meat. These parts are high in fat and can have an unpleasant flavor. Smaller fish, under 10 pounds, often do not need the red meat trimmed from the fillets.
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Spoonbill fish, because of the red and grey meat and the size, are not often cooked whole.
Removing the Fishy Flavor
Before cooking the fish, marinate the spoonbill fillets in buttermilk or milk. This helps remove any excess fishy taste. Otherwise, proper storage of the fish -- often immediately after catching one -- is key for optimal taste. Kill the fish as soon as you have caught it, and drain it of all blood. Lingering blood can give the fish a sour flavor.
Always keep the fish as cold as possible. Store on ice or in the refrigerator.
While they do not have bones, spoonbill fish have a long fiber that runs through the center of the fish. It is similar in appearance to a spinal cord. Remove this from the fish before filleting, as it can create an unpleasant flavor in the meat.
Spoonbill fish picks up flavors readily and, because of its naturally rich taste, works well with either minimal seasonings or with stronger flavors. A small amount of acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar, can help cut the richness of the fish.
Seasoning ideas include:
- Soy Sauce
- Fresh or dried ginger
- Minced garlic or onion
- Lemon juice
- Cumin and coriander powder
- Barbecue sauce
Cooked spoonbill fish can also be dressed with fresh herbs for a fresher, vegetal flavor. Options include:
- Thai basil
- Fresh cilantro
- Sliced or chopped green onions
Because of the firm flesh and rich taste, spoonbill fish take well to a range of cooking methods, including both dry and wet heat methods.
Steam, boil or poach spoonbill fillets or chunks for a lighter tasting dish that showcases the flavor of the fish. Chinese-style steamed fish, where fillets are placed in a shallow dish and drizzled with soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine and covered with sliced green onions and fresh ginger before being steamed is a healthy, low-fat way of preparing spoonbill fillets.
The fillets can also be poached or boiled in a flavorful stock to delicately season the fish.
Because the flesh is very firm, spoonbill takes well to all dry-heat cooking methods, including grilling, broiling, baking, deep-frying and pan-frying. Season the fish prior to cooking by rubbing with salt, dried or fresh herbs and spices and adding a small amount of liquid, such as wine or lemon juice. Let the fish rest for 20 to 60 minutes in the fridge, covered, before cooking.
For dry-heat cooking methods such as grilling or pan-frying, add a small amount of oil to the cooking surface and to the fish before cooking to prevent sticking. Broiled or baked spoonbill fillets do not need to be oiled prior to cooking.