WASHINGTON – Here’s a reason not to judge a book by its cover: A recent delicacy on some chef’s menus is the northern snakehead.
Known around here as the Frankenfish for its ugly look and ferocious appetite, the snakehead an invasive species that’s now spread throughout the Potomac River basin of Maryland and Virginia.
“They’re not something we’re going to officially put on the menu. It’s just a special that we bring in now and again,” says David Stein, executive chef for Georgetown Waterfront restaurants Tony & Joes Seafood Place and Nicks Riverside Grill.
The flesh is firm similar to swordfish, he says.
“The flavor is very good, it’s mild and sweet.”
That’s in stark contrast to the fish’s appearance and demeanor. Stein says a few weeks ago he was cleaning one to prepare it, cut it open and found a 12-inch, whole rockfish was inside. The snakehead was about 2.5-feet-long.
“So they’re tough,” Stein says.
But not tough to prepare. Stein says the last time he put snakehead on the menu it was wrapped in plantain leaves with garlic butter, herbs, scallions, chili, a little lime juice and baked in the oven.
That delicate preparation is a far cry from the way the fish makes its way to restaurants. Most of the snakeheads Stein receives have been shot by hunters with bow and arrow.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources notes the fish now is being served by several restaurants in Washington and Baltimore.
On Stein’s menus, the price for snakehead is comparable to other fish. Between $9 and $25, depending whether it’s a main course or an appetizer.
Stein was raised on the Eastern Shore, loves the water and is respectful of the environment. He says he’s happy to do what he can to help clear the fish out of the Maryland and Virginia river systems.