Piranha Family
Whole Paku [family Characidae]

This family of fish, native to the rivers of South America, has a very bad reputation for biting (and stripping cows to bare bones in a few minutes - not actually true), but several fish in the Pacu part of the family are farmed for sale in the markets, and they are really rather good eating. Pacus do bite, and one has a reputation for biting off the balls of skinny dippers, but they don't run in shoals like the famous Red-Bellied Piranha, which may also end up on the dinner plate.

Piranha/Paku are related to Carp and Milkfish at the suborder level, and are also very fine eating - for anyone accustomed to eating fish who's flesh is infested with thread like spines - a skill very much worth developing, as some of the most delicious fish are this way.

More on Varieties of Fish (very large page).


Pacu / Caranha   -   [Butterfish (Asian Market - wrong); Piaractus mesopotamicus (fb Pacu)   |   similar Colossoma macropomum (fb Cachama)] Whole Pacu

This is the Pacu with the reputation for biting the balls off skinny dippers, mistaking them for some of the floating nuts it normally feeds on. this fish can get to 21 inches and 44 pounds, and, whether the stories are true or not, it has teeth to do that. The photo specimen was found in the frozen fish cases of a large Asian market here in Los Angeles, labeled "Butterfish", though it is entirely unrelated to the Butterfish family or to any other fish so called.   Details and Cooking.

Red Bellied Paku / Pirapitinga   -   [Red Pompano (Asian Markets - wrong); Piaractus brachypomus alt. Colossoma brachypomum]
Whole Fish

This fish is not as toothy as it's relative, the Caranha (see above) which has the reputation as a ball biter, but enough that Fishbase lists it as "Traumatigenic", able to inflict serious bites - but it is not to be confused with the Red Bellied Piranha, which has an underbite jaw and sharper teeth. This fish is found in Brazil and Argentina, and farmed in South America and Asia. The photo specimen was purchased off the ice at a Philippine fish market in Los Angeles, in early 2014.   Details and Cooking.

Red Piranha   -   [(fb), Red Bellied Piranha; Pygocentrus nattereri]
Live Fish

These fish do run in shoals, but defensively, not for hunting. Generally they are minor predators and scavengers. They are not usually aggressive, but during times of food shortage they have been known to kill people, though usually they just bite off a few fingers and toes. They are much more often eaten by people rather than eating people. Stories of them stripping cows to bare bones in minutes have not stood up to examination. This fish can grow to over 20 inches and 8-1/2 pounds. They are not considered endangered and are not currently farmed.   photo by Gregory Moine distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

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