Lionfish are beautiful, poisonous, invasive — and delicious. These Indo-Pacific fish now thrive in reefs off the coast of North Carolina, where they find an abundance of food and shelter, and no natural predators. In fact, some researchers report that the lionfish off the state’s coast have excessive amounts of fat, likely caused by easy living conditions.

Some coastal restaurants, such as Bistro by the Sea in Morehead City, are trying to help reduce the population of this species by serving up these fish to eager diners (see the Coastwatch article, “Hunting Lions“).

In the Coastwatch article, “How to Dress and Fillet Lionfish,” Barry Nash, North Carolina Sea Grant’s seafood technology and marketing specialist, demonstrates how to dress and fillet the fish. Once the venomous spines are clipped, treat lionfish like any other white fish — moist, tasty and easy to prepare.

Here are some lionfish recipes, adapted from the Mariner’s Menu: 30 Years of Fresh Seafood Ideas seafood resource book by Joyce Taylor. If you cannot get lionfish, substitute with any white fish, such as flounder, grouper or snapper.

To get a copy of Mariner’s Menu, check your local bookstores. Or to order a copy from North Carolina Sea Grant, call 919/515-9101. For more ideas and recipes, check the Mariner’s Menu blog at

— E.L.


Fresh herb mayonnaise is a nice complement for this lionfish recipe.

Prepare Fresh Herb Mayonnaise and refrigerate.

Brush fillets with melted margarine. Lightly salt and pepper. Place in lightly greased baking dish.

Bake at 450 F until done, about 6 to 8 minutes. (Note: Look at the size of the fillets to determine cooking time.)

Place on serving dish and serve with Fresh Herb Mayonnaise.

Fresh Herb Mayonnaise:

In small bowl, combine mayonnaise, shallots, chives, parsley, basil and pepper.

Cover and refrigerate. Serve with hot fish.


Lionfish is a versatile white meat that can be used in many recipes.

Broiled parmesan lionfish.

Broiled parmesan lionfish. Photo by Vanda Lewis.

In a small bowl, combine 4 tablespoons margarine or butter, cheese, green onions, lemon juice and parsley and set aside.

Place fillets on greased broiler pan. Brush with melted margarine or butter. Lightly salt and pepper. Broil about 4 inches from heat until almost done, about 6 minutes. Spread with cheese mixture and continue cooking until cheese melts and is golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes.


Fresh tarragon adds flavorful depth to this lionfish dish.

Broiled lionfish with paprika and herbs.

Broiled lionfish with paprika and herbs. Photo by Vanda Lewis.

In small bowl, combine softened margarine with salt, paprika, pepper, onion, parsley, tarragon and lemon juice.

Place fish on lightly greased broiler pan. Spread with half of the margarine mixture. Broil about 4 inches from heat until fish is done, about 5 to 6 minutes. Spread again with margarine mixture about halfway through cooking time. Serve with pan juices, if desired.


The lemon, butter and herb sauce enhances the delicate flavor of the sautéed lionfish.

Lionfish with fresh herb mayonnaise.

Lionfish with fresh herb mayonnaise. Photo by Vanda Lewis.

In a shallow dish, combine flour, crumbs and cayenne.

Lightly salt and pepper fish. Dredge in flour mixture.

Heat oil in large skillet to 375 F. Add 2 tablespoons of margarine or butter and melt. Sauté fish, flesh side down, until done on one side, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and repeat on other side.

Remove fish to serving dish. Add lemon juice, chives, parsley and remaining butter to skillet. Stir well and heat. Pour over cooked fish.

This article was published in the Autumn 2013 issue of Coastwatch.

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