Snakehead; Scary name, scary attitude, and surprisingly delicious.

Snakehead are an invasive species in the United States but are native and a delicacy in Asia. Snakehead were believed to be introduced to the United States through illegal exotic fish dumping.

Snakehead have now been seen in 7 states since their introduction in Maryland. The largest population resides in the Potomac River drainage where they pose a large threat to the native species and ecosystems. The biggest threat they pose is an introduction to the Great Lakes where they could potentially wreak havoc on the very intricate and unique ecosystems.

Channa Argus or the Northern Snakehead are very unique fish. They have the ability to breathe oxygen and can survive out of water for 4 days. They also mature very fast and start spawning within 1-3 years. Dependent upon the ecosystem, Northern Snakehead can spawn UP TO 5 TIMES in one season from April to August, which potentially means 50,000 eggs can be laid in a season. They are very territorial during this time of year because they guard their eggs. The fry will hatch in 2-4 days and then will feed off of the embryonic sacs they are attached to. The female and male will guard these bright orange fry balls much like a female Largemouth bass. Any sort of invader is bound to get eaten.

This brings me to catching these toothy fish. TOPWATER. These fish sit in heavy vegetation, cover, and have been known to have birds, small mammals, and frogs in their bellies. Baitfish streamers, topwater frog and mice patterns, and others such as gurglers and poppers have been known to work. Along with the heavy cover and teeth, 30lb fluoro is commonly used. A wire leader could mean the difference between holding one of these slimy invaders and a lost fly. These fish may have a bad reputation and you’d think they would be easy to catch but it’s quite the opposite. These fish tend to be picky and moody. They will chase your fly all the way back to the boat but won’t eat it. If you get followed or get a short strike, change your fly and cast to the exact same area. Much like bass fishermen if a bass misses a topwater strike they can throw in a submersible bait into the same area and most likely get bit.

Now onto eating these slimy missiles of piss and vinegar. Snakehead have a slightly more firm fillet than tilapia and near-zero gaminess or fishiness. Eat the invaders is what people are calling it when they harvest these fish. So instead of giving your garden some snakehead fertilizer try filleting it up and pan-searing them.

“It is such a universal fish. If it weren’t for the name I think it would be on more menus.” “Can’t beat ’em, eat ’em,” is the slogan from Louisiana chef Philippe Parola.

“Eating invasive species is a really fun and interesting and charismatic way of attacking a very acute problem,” said Seaver, who advocates for sustainable seafood.

Chef Chad Wells of Alewife restaurant tossed chunks of raw snakehead fish with cilantro and citrus to make something more ambitious than an $8 ceviche appetizer. It was an invasive-species eradication plan in a martini glass.”

Seaver, Parola, and Wells have been among the front lines serving snakehead on their menus. So far, snakehead has done well on restaurant menus helping combat this alien invasion.

Now if snakehead ceviche isn’t your thing these next few dishes should be simple and delicious ways to prepare snakehead.

#1 – Pan-Seared Snakehead Tacos

The most simple yet effective way to truly taste the fish is to pan-sear them.  Make sure you take the skin off of your fillet. Snakeheads have large tough scales which would inhibit cooking and just wouldn’t look appetizing.

  • Lightly crack salt and pepper on both sides of the fillet.
  • A little bit of olive oil or butter in a pan and a fresh fillet of snakehead.
  • The Pan should be at medium heat.

I’m a huge fan of a vegetal or fruit-based salsa with fish tacos. With how firm the fillet is it can hold a good amount of salsa on top without being too heavy and masking the flavor of the fish.

Snakhead tacos
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A simple Mango Salsa:

1 large ripe mango, peeled and diced into cubes

1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced into cubes

1/2 of a cucumber and diced into cubes

1/2 a shallot or 1/4 of red onion, diced and cubed

1 fresh jalapeno diced and cubed, (more seeds = more spice)

A couple of sprigs of fresh cilantro, finely diced stem and all

Zest of a lime and then Juice the whole lime

Once finished cover and put into the fridge to let everything merry and come together.  You probably want to make this first before cooking your fish. When it all comes together it creates an awesome summertime dish!

#2 – Fry ‘Em Up! 

Much like any fish, it always tastes better fried. There’s just something about a cold beer or cocktail, a giant platter of fried fish with a wedge of lemon and good friends, that’s hard to beat!

Fried Snakehead
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Everyone has their own version or favorite way to fry fish, so apply your favorite application, add snakehead and enjoy!

Here’s a great recipe from Flylords’ Culinary Editor Kirk Marks!

Flavor on the Fly: Grilled Snakehead and Fried Wild Turkey with Caprese Skewers

#3 – Grilled

As I mentioned, Snakehead is firm and can hold up well unlike other flakier fish. Which makes this fish great for grilling! Startup the grill, once again with this fish being so neutral you can utilize your preferred spices and routine! In some cases, it’s better to leave the skin on when grilling fish so it is up to you.

Pan seared snakehead
Image Courtesy: Trip Advisor

A great addition to this cooking method is the mango salsa mentioned above.

An authentic version of grilling the fish is gutting the fish and cooking it whole with ginger, Thai basil, Thai chilis, and lemongrass!

Grilled Snakhead
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5. Po’boy or in a Fish Sandwich

Now it may not be a way of cooking Snakehead but once again the versatility of this fish is really endless.  With the “steakiness” of the fillet, Pan seared, fried, or gilled and then put on a sandwich is the perfect match.

Sankehead Sandwhich

Po’boy with some finely chopped Iceberg Lettuce, French roll, cajun mayo, tomato, and a little squeeze of lemon. Game over!

#5 – Snakehead Fish Cakes 

A little more of a time-consuming method but the payoff is a fantastic dish. Much like crab cakes or other fish cakes the snakehead fish cake will be mixed and molded into little pucks or balls. Then battered and fried.

As I’ve mentioned previously choose your desired fish cake recipe and add snakehead to it. I can’t stress the versatility of the taste and texture of the fish enough! Literally, any application you can think of can be utilized this fish!

Snakehead fishcakes
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6 – Bonus Recipe: Ceviche

I mentioned it earlier but Ceviche is one of the simplest yet flavorful ways you can treat a fish.

  • Dice up your fillet, put it into a bowl, cover, and put into the fridge
  • Zest and juice 2 limes
  • Chop Cilantro leaves
  • Dice a 1/4 of red onion
  • dice red and yellow bell peppers
  • Mix, chill, and serve with your favorite cracker
Snakehead ceviche 2
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With all this info now all that’s left is to go catch one for yourself! Join the movement and Eat the Invaders!

Featured Image Courtesy:

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