Can you eat sunfish? These jumbo fish are odd-looking and slightly intimidating. But are they also tasty?
Yes, you can eat ocean sunfish. Sunfish meat has a chewy texture and rich fishy flavor that people liken to lobster, sardines, and bass. Filleting this fish is a hefty chore, but you can cook it in many different ways!
This article discusses sunfish that reside in the ocean (Mola mola), not freshwater sunfish. These kinds of sunfish are different and do not necessarily apply to the information stated here.
Is It Safe To Eat Sunfish?
Yes! Sunfish are safe to eat! These funky-looking fish do not contain high levels of toxins. You can consume them regularly without issue. But experts recommend avoiding all fish while pregnant. It’s also best for children under 15 years old to consume sunfish only once a week due to mercury levels. But a healthy nonpregnant adult can eat as much sunfish as they want!
Are Sunfish Good To Eat?
While some fish are not particularly yummy or sought after, ocean sunfish are considered a delicacy in some regions. Many Asian countries, like Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, see this as a precious fish and use it for expensive dishes.
Ocean sunfish can be delicious when cooked perfectly, but in Japan, it’s one of the best kinds of fish to eat raw in sushi. Sunfish sushi can be twice the price of other types of sushi, such as salmon and tuna. So if you ever see sunfish on a sushi menu, consider splurging for this Asian delicacy.
What Does Sunfish Taste Like?
Ocean sunfish have a very distinct flavor that people love. It’s like a cross between the meatiness of bass and the succulent taste of a lobster tail. The flavor is delicate and light with a familiar saltiness akin to smaller fish like sardines. The fish can take on many different flavors, depending on how it is prepared.
The buttery sweet lobster flavor is more prominent when you eat sunfish raw. However, it tastes more like bass or herring when fileted and cooked. While people may disagree on the flavor, they do agree that the taste profile can vary wildly depending on the preparation, fish size, and freshness. Sometimes, the sunfish is chewy and meaty, but it can also be tender and soft.
What Size Sunfish Is Best To Eat?
Ocean sunfish are massive fish, much larger than freshwater sunfish, which can be about the size of your palm. But an ocean sunfish is enormous, with the average mature sunfish being over eight feet from fin to fin and weighing around 2,200 pounds.
To put that in perspective, the average midsize car weighs around 3,000 pounds, and compact cars 2,500 pounds. The maximum weight of an ocean sunfish ever recorded is over 5,000 pounds.
So what size is best to eat? It doesn’t matter. Every part of the fish is edible, and the amount of meat in one fish is abundant enough that you won’t notice a difference between most filets. While a lobster tail and claw offer a significantly different texture and flavor, most cuts from a sunfish offer the same experience.
One ocean sunfish can produce several filets, feeding as many as a dozen people. So the only thing the size of the fish impacts is how many people you can feed.
Is Sunfish Good for You?
Ocean sunfish are healthy to eat. Certain risks come with eating ocean fish, as most contain mercury and microplastics. But ocean sunfish offers 21 grams of protein in a three-ounce serving and essential vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin B, folate, and potassium. Ocean sunfish may also contain fewer toxins than other fish, such as salmon or bass.
How To Fillet Sunfish
Filleting sunfish is a labor-intensive task because the fish is so enormous. First, you probably need help moving and turning the fish over, so this is not a one-person job. To fillet the sunfish, you need a sharp knife that you can easily control. Follow the steps below to fillet an ocean sunfish:
- Insert the knife on one side of the fish near the tail and slice away the skin to reveal the white jelly-like flesh. Cut at the top first along the spine, but be careful of the spikes.
- Cut one side into sections, working carefully, moving from one section to the next until you reach the head. You can cut fillets into any size you want, but the size of your forearm is ideal.
- Rinse each fillet, bag it, and put it on ice or in a freezer after you cut it off.
- Flip the fish over and repeat steps 1-3 again.
Unfortunately, ocean sunfish meat can spoil very quickly, so you must store it properly as soon as you remove it from the fish. And the dorsal spikes along the spine are sharper than you may think, so use caution when cutting around them.
How To Cook Sunfish
The answer to “can you eat sunfish”, is a solid yes, and you can cook this unusual fish in several ways. Below are brief overviews of how to cook sunfish in five different ways.
Pan-frying sunfish is one of the easiest ways to cook it. Heat oil in a pan, sprinkle salt and pepper on the fillets, and let them cook in the hot oil for 10 to 15 minutes.
Pan-frying is easy, but baking is probably easier. You can season the fillets lightly or coat them in flour. Place them on a lined or greased baking tray or broiling pan and bake them in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes at 400ºF.
Deep-frying sunfish creates a super decadent flavor and moist fish. All you have to do is season the fillets or coat them in breading and fry them in oil until they are golden brown.
Grilling sunfish creates a smoky and rustic flavor, bringing out the bass-like taste. Grill sunfish in a grilling bag to prevent the meat from flaking apart and slipping through the grill. Just cook it until browned and flaky, usually 10 to 20 minutes.
As discussed, raw sunfish meat is excellent in sushi. You can use it immediately after filleting the fish, and it tastes excellent combined with avocado or roe.