Barracuda
Whole Pacific Barracuda [Sphyraenus species]

This very elongated fish is a fearsome predator with strong jaws and sharp teeth, but very rarely attacks swimmers. It is found mostly in tropical and subtropical seas. The photo is of a Pacific Barracuda (Sphyraena argentea) 42-1/2 inches long and weighing 8-1/3 pounds. This fish is found from Alaska to the southern tip of Baja California. Mexico, but is rare north of Point Conception in Southern California, It can grow to almost 60 inches and 26 pounds, but the Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) can get up to 72 inches and 100 pounds.

Caution:  Barracuda can be highly toxic in tropical reef areas like Florida, the Indian Ocean, Hawaii and northern Australia. For more on this subject see Safety below.

More on Varieties of Fish (very large page).


The notes here apply specifically to Pacific Barracuda (Sphyraena argentea) but should be generally applicable to other barracuda, taking into consideration the safety notes. The flesh of this fish is light in color, and light medium in taste, with a quite pleasant flavor. There is a very dark strip down the centerline just under the skin. It has a considerably darker flavor but is not unpleasant. Barracuda should be kept well chilled at all times and eaten as soon as possible as the flavor can become strong otherwise.

Skinned fillets can be cooked by just about any suitable method. The flesh stays quite firm in wet cooking, even with extended simmering, so this is a very good fish for soups and stews.

Buying:   These fish are fairly common in the Asian markets here in Los Angeles. The photo specimen was purchased from a Philippine market at 2014 US $1.99 / pound. They are best purchased soon after they are put out on ice, usually Saturday morning.

Scales:  This fish doesn't have a lot of scales, and most of the ones it does have are up near the head. They are small with light adhesion, so scrape off easily with very little flying about.

Cleaning:   The body cavity is very long, and there's a fair amount of stuff in it, particularly a very long double swim bladder. Between the swim bladder and the backbone is a fair amount of blood works, mostly contained within membranes, so fairly easy to pull out with your long nose pliers. The gills are large and pull very hard, but if you don't expect to make stock, you needn't pull them. Otherwise cut them loose with kitchen shears.

Fillet:   This is not a particularly difficult fish to fillet, but there is very little to guide you between the top and the backbone, so cut carefully. Handle the fillet gently because it is very tender and prone to coming apart. When you get to the rib cage, cut the ribs from the backbone with kitchen shears and pull them from the fillet with long nose pliers - they are few and pull easily. There are quite a few long sharp centerline pin bones, but they are not hard to find in the soft flesh. Use long nose pliers and grasp them in the middle, because the big end breaks off easily - pull straight forward. In particular, check the top point at the front of the fillet for tiny bones.

Skin:   The skin doesn't have a strong or "off" flavor, but it shrinks fiercely, so needs to be removed for any form of cooking. It is quite tough, so is not difficult to remove using the standard Method. I have skinned full length fillets successfully.

Yield:   An 8 pound 5 ounce fish yielded 4 pounds 10 ounces of skin-on fillet (56%) and 4 pounds 1-1/2 oz skin-off (49%).

Stock:   The head, bones and fins of the photo specimen made a serviceable stock, a little stronger than some but not at all unpleasant (I did not use the skins). Don't simmer more than 40 minutes for best results (see Method). If the barracuda is not so fresh, results may not be so good.

Safety:   Mind the warnings about toxic barracuda. For details see Ciguatera Poisoning. Some fishermen in Central America say small (18 inches or so) fish are safe. In Florida some fishermen flop small barracuda on the dock, if flies settle on it it's OK, otherwise not (large barracuda are always toxic there). In some Central American countries ants are used for the same purpose. I have no idea if any of these tests are effective. Pacific Barracuda (S. argentea - photo) from the west coast of North America is generally considered safe (no reef environment here).

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