In Maryland, revenge is a dish best served fried. Invasive species of fish that wreck havoc on the local ecosystem are being featured in promotional campaigns that tout their culinary virtues: "Malicious, but delicious."
As NPR reports:
Take the northern snakehead, which has made its way into tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay. It competes with native species for food, and then eats the native species, not to mention the odd frog or bird, with its mouthful of sharp teeth.
It's been called "Fishzilla." It breeds fast, has no natural predators and can grow to be 4 feet long. The northern snakehead hangs out in grassy shallows, making it hard to catch.
But a couple of years ago, Maryland started promoting the snakehead as an eating fish. Its harvest has increased from zero to 5,000 pounds a year.
Blue catfish [above] is another alien invader. In its native Mississippi River basin, the blue catfish is a healthy part of the ecosystem. But it was planted in Northeastern waters as a sport fish, and now it's become a ferocious predator.
Blue catfish can live for as long as 20 years and grow to be as big as 100 pounds. So now, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has started promoting this fish as good eating, too. It's not a bottom feeder like other catfish, so it has a clean flavor, excellent for fish and chips.
There are some critics of this tactic of eating invasive species: They worry that this will create demand. But Steve Vilnit, director of fisheries marketing for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, says if we sell the last blue catfish, we've done our job.
As for the actual flavor? A Chesapeake food critic reports:
Chef Chad Wells of the Alewife Restaurant in Baltimore is one local chef who is promoting both of these invasive species on his menu. He regularly serves Potomac River blue catfish, and he also serves snakehead as a special when he can get it.
I tried both fish while I was at Alewife, and they were fantastic. Wells' preparation of snakehead was blackened with spices and served over a bed of beans and chorizo. The fish was incredibly firm with a texture more like an open ocean fish then a freshwater one. The blue catfish tacos were also delicious. The texture and flavor of the catfish was light and worked perfectly with the crunch of the tacos.