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Greater Seattle Aquarium Society

To Serve Fish

by Heather Candelaria
January 1999

I once took a trip to Peru, and spent a week in the jungle along tributaries of the Amazon. The whole purpose of this trip was to see, collect and catalog various aquarium fish. I always found it hard to believe that the natives considered us crazy for wanting to catch little fish and put them in aquariums in our homes. To the people of Peru, little fish are really only good for big fish to eat, and the only reason for wanting the big fish, is to cook and eat them. While on this trip, I ate several species of aquarium fish including pacu, piranha, and arrowana.

Last month when a beautiful 26-inch silver arrowana, which was purchased for $150, died in transport to the customer’s home, it was immediately refrigerated in order to preserve the remains. The following day the customer brought the fish back in to me, in order to get a refund which I sadly gave him.

So, left with an amazingly fresh piece of exotic fish (meat averaging about $21 per pound), I think that I did the reasonable thing, I ate it!

Now, I did consult with a few knowledgeable people to see if there was any risk of getting sick or acquiring parasites or something nasty from eating aquarium fish. Based on the fact that the fish died due to either suffocation (bag shifting during transport) or stress/physical injury (have you ever attempted to move a 26-inch arrowana?!), there was not much possibility of the fish having disease causing agents present. I had the fish for several months prior to its death and knew that there were no chemicals or medicines used on it in that time. Just to be careful though, we made sure to cook it at the highest possible temperature, and avoided the fattiest parts (the fat of animals can have toxic materials such as heavy metals build up in them).

After the meal, I remembered something about all the fish I ate when I was in South America; they all had a very muddy texture, fine grained meat which was too tender to really hold much shape. I think this is a characteristic we would see in all tropical fresh water fish, and when I cook these fish in the future, I will probably cook them to be served as part of a sauce over rice, pasta or something else.

Spiced Butter Mix


[Saute the onion and green pepper in the olive oil, then mix all the sauce ingredients together and simmer 20-30 minutes]

Preparing the Fish

Clean the arrowana as you would any other fish, then remove the scales by starting at the tail end, belly side, and slipping your fingers underneath the scales and popping them off by working your fingers towards the back side of the fish. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, taking off a row of scales is very much like peeling one section of the shell off a shrimp. It is necessary to take off all the scales before cutting the fish, as even a hack-saw will have a hard time cutting through them. For this recipe, I cut the fish into one inch thick steaks (one 26 arrowana yields about 8 steaks, and feeds 4-6 people).

Using the spiced butter mix, generously coat the fish and a cooking rack which will hold the steaks above the bottom of the pan. Broil (highest possible temperature) the steaks for 5 minutes, then turn and add more butter and cook for an additional 5-8 minutes (or until done).

Just before serving, make sure the sauce is very hot, and pour it over the steaks.