Can You Eat Garfish? [Do They Taste Good?]

Garfish is a unique-looking type of fish in North and Central America that most find startling at first glance. Many fishermen looking to cook something for a meal will often toss this fish back into the water due to its appearance.

close up of garfish

Its strange appearance aside, the real question is can you eat gar? Is it safe? Does it taste good? In short, yes—you can eat gar without any problem. But there are a few things to consider before catching, preparing, and eating gar.

What Are Garfish?

Gar is a species that lives in marine (salt) and fresh waters in North and Central America. Gars are ray-finned fish that have developed since the Triassic period, a geological period over 240 million years ago.

The largest gar is the alligator gar, growing up to as much as 100 pounds. Gar has large ganoid scales, long jaws, and sharp teeth. They can survive in oxygenated and deoxygenated water due to their swim bladders. Also, they have a caudal fin, dorsal fin, and anal fin.

Garfish, known as sea needles or gar pikes, are also found in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Black Sea bodies of water. Gar eat smaller fish, such as mackerel, and frequent shallow waters during the spring season. During the Fall season, the garfish return to the open waters, such as the Atlantic Ocean.

The gar is a predator that eats eels, sprats, and herring throughout their lifespan. They hunt around the shallow waters close to the shores.

Is It Safe To Eat Garfish?

Yes! You can eat gar fish, but you can’t eat gar eggs. This is because the eggs of gar contain ichthyotoxin, a toxic protein that can be deadly to humans. But, if you can find a way to cook the eggs of the gar to over 120 degrees, this could denature the protein. Even so, the risk is not worth it, as it is difficult to bring the roe’s temperature high enough.

While these types of eggs are unlikely to kill a fully grown person, the effects certainly won’t be pleasant. Do yourself a favor and steer clear of any gar roe.

What Does Garfish Taste Like?

The flesh of garfish is firm and mild in taste, like other fish skin. The flesh of gar is firm and chewy, like that of other meats considered ‘gamey.’ The meat is comparable to white meat, like chicken. The thicker filets of gar contain dark meat that is even chewier.

Are Garfish Dangerous?

Gar can look intimidating, and rightly so. They put up a huge fight when you try to reel them in, and, like many larger fish, are tough to wrangle. If you do hook and catch a gar, be prepared to act fast. The mouths on these fish are full of sharp teeth that piece like needles, and their jaws are strong.

garfish being reeled in on lure

Because these fish are so strong, many fishers suggest bow hunting as an alternative to a rod. This way, the gar has already been killed (or is at least severely wounded) by the time you bring it into the boat.

To be completely safe, make sure you’re wearing protective gear when you go fishing for gar, especially on your arms and hands. Getting bitten would be painful, so do all that you can to avoid an encounter with its mouth.

How To Prepare Garfish

For those who want to learn how to eat gar or how to store fish, you need to keep one thing in mind. The skin and flesh of all seven species of the gar are safe to eat, but the eggs are NOT.

If you are interested in cooking with gar, you first need to know how to prepare this type of fish. You must clean and filet the fish before getting the flesh and skin off the bone.

One of the main reasons why more people do not eat gar is because it is difficult to bone and filet. Since the fish’s skin is rough and spiky, it is more tedious to filet.

If you’ve caught yourself a gar, congratulations! That’s one tough trophy. If you decide you want to eat your gar rather than mount it on your wall, it’s tougher still.

Start by nailing your gar’s head to a wooden plank. This will anchor the fish in place, allowing you to really get the elbow grease going. Get your knife ready and hold the tail firmly as you try to get the scales off. It may seem tedious, but these thick scales usually come off in clusters, so once you get the first group off, the next will be easier.

Once you have finished removing the scales, remove the head and tail. You can then gut your fish and get it ready to cook!

How To Cook Garfish

Gar tends to be an oily fish, so if you have a good recipe for something like mackerel, you can easily swap it with gar. One tasty way to prepare gar is to mimic Sicilian-style salmon. Get your filet, and pat it dry.

Next, you’ll need:

  • 3 1/2 oz of Gar fillet
  • The juice of 1 lime
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp chili flakes
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 3 1/2 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 1/2 oz chopped broccoli
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 2 Tbsp fresh parsley

Preheat your oven to 350°. Drizzle a baking tray with olive oil, and put your fish on the tray. Add the paprika and chili flakes, then season with salt and pepper to taste. You’ll bake this for 10 minutes or until cooked through.

As your fish bakes, drizzle some olive oil into a frying pan. Heat it up, and once the oil starts to shimmer, add your mushrooms. Saute these for five minutes. Then, you’ll add the broccoli and cook until tender (or less, if you like your broccoli with some bite). At the very end, add your garlic. It burns quickly, so don’t fry for more than a minute. Then, mix in your fresh parsley.

Serve the vegetables on the side with your gar and enjoy your meal.

Final Thoughts

Gar is a unique type of fish you won’t see on a person’s table or in a restaurant. But, if you are a fisherman who enjoys trying different fish species, this can be a new experience!

Gar is safe to eat. However, remember always to follow guidelines on how to store fish to ensure your health is not at risk.

Tommy Bull