. Roughfish - Basic Information
- Carp, Buffalo, Gar, Bowfins, Drum, Suckers, Eels, Paddlefish, and Sturgeon
At the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, we receive lots of phone calls and letters from people wanting to know how to cook roughfish -- carp, buffalo, gar, bowfins, drum, suckers, eels, paddlefish and sturgeon. These neglected fish are common in fishing waters statewide and are frequently caught by anglers seeking more popular species.
Bowfishermen take hundreds of thousands of pounds each year, yet many have no idea how to prepare a roughfish so it's fit to eat. Contrary to popular opinion, most roughfish are mighty good eating, a fact confirmed by the millions of pounds caught and sold by commercial fishermen each year. We're not out to change folks eating likes, but we want to be sure good-eating wildlife isn't wasted. We figure fewer roughfish will be thrown away, and there'll be a lot more people fishing for them, if folks know roughfish can be fixed to taste just as good as more popular food fish. Try the recipes presented here, and discover the fine culinary qualities of these underwater outcasts.
Carp and Buffalo: First "fleece" the large scales off the skin in a single layer with a sharp knife. Insert the knife just forward of the tail, then working toward the head with short, sawing cuts, remove the scales along the side, leaving the skin intact. Unless it will be cooked whole, fillet the fish, cutting through the ribs to produce fillets with skin on one side and the ribs attached. Divide each fillet into two long pieces by cutting lengthwise along the lateral line. Then remove the dark red meat along the lateral line portion of each piece. Now, cut the rib section off each piece, and slice between the ribs, creating strips that each contain two or three ribs. Cut the remaining meat in smaller portions, if desired, and score each piece across the grain at 1/8-inch intervals along the entire length, slicing to, but not through, the skin. This virtually eliminates the free-floating Y-bones when the meat is cooked.
Suckers (including Hog Sucker, Spotted Sucker, Redhorse, Quillback and Carpsucker): The flesh of suckers is laced with fine Y-bones. One way to avoid these is to skin the fish and use a fillet knife to cut long thin strips of meat from the side of each fish, starting near the head and slicing to the tail. The strips should be thin like bacon. Suckers can also be prepared like carp and buffalo.
Paddlefish (Spoonbill, Spoonbill Cat): Paddlefish have firm, boneless fillets similar in texture and quality to swordfish. To dress, hang the fish by its bill. Make a circular cut just above the tail, without cutting the skeletal cartilage. Break the cartilage by twisting the tail, then remove the notochord, an elastic white cord similar to a spinal cord. This will stretch to nearly double its length when pulled out. Slice the skin behind the head and down the back to the dorsal fin. With the aid of pliers, remove the skin, then gut the fish and remove the head. Remove all red meat. Fillet or cut into steaks.
American Eel: Eels are slimy and slippery. Rub salt on your hands for a better grip; or grab the eel with a piece of brown paper grocery bag. Secure the eel's head with a nail, string or cleaning board clamp. Make a circular cut just through the skin around the neck. Skin, eviscerate and remove the head. Cut in two-inch pieces and make a slit along the backbone of each piece. This cuts the muscles so the eel won't jump in the frying pan. It's also a good idea to parboil eel chunks 2 or 3 minutes before cooking.
Bowfins (Grinnel, Mudfish, Dogfish): The flesh of bowfins is poor in quality -- tough, stringy and cottony. If you insist on eating them, they should be bled as soon as caught and kept on ice until ready for cooking. Grinnel flesh gets mushy when keep too long after being caught. They can be served whole, pan-dressed or filleted, just like largemouth bass, but for the best flavor, remove the skin and all dark red meat.
Drum (Gaspergou, Sheepshead): Contrary to popular belief, drum do not possess the many small "Y-bones" found in carp and buffalo. Filleting your catch and removing all dark red flesh along the lateral line produces boneless strips of meat. The cooked meat is firm, not flaky, and can be broiled, baked, fried, smoked, canned or made into chowder.
Gar: Gar are a staple in Louisiana fish markets, often selling for as much as $4.50 a pound. For the best-tasting fish, bleed and gut your catch as soon as possible and place it on ice. To dress the fish, use heavy shears to cut down the back and shuck it out of its skin. Then fillet the long strips of meat away from the back-bone, and cut into serving-sized pieces.