Ember Parrotfish
Ember Parrotfish [Scarus rubroviolaceus]

These Indo-Pacific fish have a very wide range, found in reef and rocky environments from Durban, South Africa to the Ryukyu islands of Japan, the Hawaiian Islands, the Gulf of California and the Galapagos Islands. They range as far south as the northern coast of Australia. They can grow to almost 28 inches, but the photo specimen was 20-1/4 inches long and weighed 2 pounds 15-3/4 ounces. They change from female to male at 14-3/4 inches long and develop a bulbous nose and often a deeply lunate tail. Color schemes and patterns can vary radically. This Parrotfish is fished commercially, and is IUCN Red Listed LC (Least Concern).

More on Parrot Fish

As you can see below, Parrotfish is a little more hassle than some fish to prepare, so why deal with Parrotfish? Well, because they have a unique combination of taste and texture. Parrotfish flesh is pure white in color, with no dark strip down the center under the skin. It's flavor is mild, but sufficiently interesting to be enjoyed by the fish connoisseur - yet not so assertive as to deeply offend those who want their fish "white and lite".

The flesh stays firm enough for any mode of cooking, but on the plate, can be flaked apart into unusually thick firm textured flakes.

Cooking:   This fish needs to be cooked as skinless fillets, as its skin shrink is too severe to be controlled. For pan frying, I use just a dusting of rice flour and fry in a light oil so the true taste of the fish can be enjoyed. It also poaches very well. In both cases, use a very light sauce. This fish cooks firm enough it can be used in fish soups and stews.

Buying:   Parrotfish show up fairly regularly in the Philippine fish markets here in Southern California, and occasionally in other Asian markets. It's not a fish you go out to buy, it's a fish you buy when you see it. The photo specimen, 1 pound 13-3/8 ounces, was purchased from a Philippine fish market in Los Angeles (Eagle Rock) for 2016 US $3.99 / pound.

Scales:   This fish is completely covered with huge, stiff scales that have a lot of very tight overlap and strong adhesion, making them practically impossible to scrape off the usual way. For a 3 pound fish I had to pull them off two or three at at time with my long nose pliers. Fortunately, they are so big that there aren't that many of them.

Cleaning:   This is not the easiest fish to clean as there are some tough membranes that aren't easy to pull out, and the gills are hard to get to. Use your long nosed pliers and strong kitchen shears. You will find a set of millstones in the throat, used to crush coral pebbles into sand to extract food.

Fillet:   The fish is fairly easy to fillet with an easy to follow bone structure. When you get to the rib cage, it is easiest to cut the ribs from the backbone with kitchen shears and pull them from the fillet. Pulled lengthwise they pull out taking little flesh with them. There are some substantial sharp centerline pinbones for the full length of the rib cage. Pull these out straight forward. The lower belly is very thin and lined with soft fat. Best to cut the thin part off to make skinning easier.

Skin:   The skin shrinks very severely when heated, it doesn't let go, and it doesn't soften until the damage is done. Trying to hold a fillet flat when it's turned skin side down is futile, the skin just pulls the fillet into a lump. Fortunately, the skin is tough, enough to be easily removed cleanly using the long knife and cutting board Method. The skin does not have a strong or "off" flavor, but I do not use it in the stock pot because it will color the stock oddly.

Yield:   Yield is a bit better than some parrotfish. A 1 pound 13-3/8 ounce fish yielded 14-1/4 ounces of skin-on fillet (49%) and 12.5 ounces skin off (43%).

Stock:   The head, fins and bones made a stock with almost no oil, but it had a rather odd odor and flavor, and a murky greenish color. Not recommended.

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