ALICE TOWN, BIMINI - With more than 400 servings of a new menu item last month, Bimini Big Game Club's General Manager Michael Weber and Chef Alvarez Bastian have found a recipe to help the environment and sate the most discriminating palate at the same time.
The Bimini Big Game Club's Panko Breaded Lionfish Nuggets are the talk of the island - a gourmand's answer to a tasty snack and an eco-solution for helping to rid nearby reefs of an aggressive and non-native predator.
"Our lionfish nuggets have become a huge seller, and though we don't serve endangered species such as grouper and we were the first Bahamas resort to feature a shark free marina, we have absolutely no problem in turning lionfish into a menu item," said Weber.
The colorful and charismatic lionfish, a member of the venomous scorpionfish family, are native to the Indian Ocean and South Pacific. First observed in Fort Lauderdale in 1985, they appeared in noticeable numbers in the Caribbean and Florida waters around 2000 and have continued to aggressively breed. Scientists are quite concerned that lionfish may be completely reinventing the western north Atlantic coral reef ecosystem.
How bad is it? According to Dr. Mahmood Shivji, a professor at Nova Southeastern University and director of the Guy Harvey Research Institute:
"There are enormous concerns that lionfish will completely change and possibly destroy Atlantic coral reefs by overrunning them and shrinking their native biodiversity, and that the ongoing damage is severe and possibly irreparable. So far, there is no known quick-fix, and the problem is escalating exponentially."
Weber is quick to admit that turning lionfish into finger food is far from a solution, but with proper cleaning, the lionfish meat is excellent in taste and texture, and any that make it to the table means "they are no longer a threat on the reefs."
The US federal government's chief fisheries management agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is in agreement, having developed an Eat Lionfish campaign http://www.ccfhr.noaa.gov/docs/EatLionfishPullCard.pdf.
"If you can't beat them, eat them," said Weber.
Recipe for Panko Breaded Lionfish Nuggets ala Bimini Big Game Club (Please carefully adhere to cleaning recommendations before preparing)
4 oz of Lionfish
1 cup liquid egg
Salt & Pepper
In 3 separate bowls place your liquid egg, flour and breadcrumb. Cut Lionfish into small bite sized pieces and season with salt & Pepper & Cajun seasoning. Dip pieces into flour, shake off excess flour, and then dip into liquid egg and then into Panko breading. Once covered in the breading they are ready to take a long hot bath in some hot oil at 325 degrees until crispy golden brown.
Homemade Cilantro & Key Lime Tartar Sauce
Mayonnaise 1 cup
1 Gherkin (or other small pickle)
2 TBS Key Lime Juice
6 leaves of chopped Cilantro
2 TBS of chopped Capers
Make sure all above ingredients are FINELY chopped. Mix the above ingredients in a mixing bowl and fold ingredients together and add salt & pepper to taste. Refrigerate until time of service to remain fresh.