On medieval ordnance survey maps, there were areas which bore the legend, ‘here be dragons’, and these usually referred to uncharted, unexplored territory. As a writer and natural born hyperbolist, I have always loved the phrase, and have used it liberally to connote life-mandated discovery especially when that adventure is undertaken under duress.
Here be dragons. It is visceral and operatic.
But on Friday, I realised for the first time that I have been using the phrase flippantly. I have been underplaying the threat of dragons in this equation. On Friday, I finally came face to face with a real dragon, and I very nearly flipped out. I had ordered a few things from the market, dry fish being one of them. I told our cook that we have been using the same dry fish to cook soups for a long time and that she should buy a different type. I was expecting her to come back with smoked herrings or an extra helping of stock fish, or smoked tilapia or something.
But no, she came back with a dragon. Look at it. I was terrified. Anything that has fangs this size is not a fish – not by any stretch of imagination. It looked like a sea snake that died angry. I was so close to putting it in the bin. But then I thought, no, you are supposed to be an intrepid food blogger/explorer extrordinaire. So I decided to find out about it. A few readers told me it was smoked barracuda, but I needed to be sure, so I did some other research. You guys turned out to be right. Funnily enough, I have seen fresh barracudas aplenty at the market and under the bridge when I’ve gone to buy fish, but they don’t look quite as mean as this dry one, so I did not immediately connect them.
But interestingly as we picked the fish apart, I saw a lesson in the situation. The lesson was – we should all be humble. Because today you might be a big bad king pin, striking fear in the hearts of all who encounter you; but then one fine day, your reign is over and a shivering person who might have fled at the sight of you, will pick the flesh off your back and put you in her soup and eat you. You’re not so bad ass now, are you? Hahaha.
Anyhow, here are some random facts about the barracuda that you may or may not already know.
- There are more than 20 different species of barracuda which occur naturally in various coastal or tropical oceans around the world. One of the things they all have in common is a severe underbite and generally awful dentition.
- Barracudas come in different sizes but some species grow quite large. Sometimes up to 7 feet long. They have been discribed by various sites as being ‘snake like’ or having a ‘torpedo shaped body’. Ew. Someone remind me why people eat this fish again?
- They like to swim very fast through a shoal of smaller fish, like a bolt of lightening, and catch their prey off guard. Like a great boxers left hook – blink and you’ll miss it.
- They don’t generally attack humans unless they are extremely hungry, or a shiny piece of diving equipment makes them mistake you for a fish. But you still need to be careful. These things are obviously nuts.
- They come in grey, blue, black, silver, brown (or red in Japan) and have smooth skin.
- Barracudas have firm, meaty flesh that is versatile in cooking. Taste wise, it is closest to the mackerel but is fleshier.
- In some regions, the fish that barracudas consume are species that feed on poisonous coral reef plants which are toxic. This toxicity sometimes transfers into the barracuda, and then into the human that eats the barracuda. This is called Ciguatera and symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, muscle weakness and difficulty walking. This risk is higher in barracudas from certain oceans.
- Large barracudas also feature on the list of fish to watch out for, for mercury poisoning. What a charming rap sheet.
If you are not yet thoroughly discouraged from ever ingesting a piece of this seafaring terror, here are some nutritional facts.
- Apart from a few bits about the high protein content (duh), low calories, and decent omega 3 fatty acid content, I cannot actually find enough credible information about positive health benefits.
For curiousity’s sake, I am going to cook one soup with this – just one -as I would like to see what the smoked version tastes like when cooked. But I’m putting an embargo on barracudas in this kitchen. Even just from a conceptual standpoint, anything that is so ugly can’t be good for eating. I have often wondered whether there is a tangible relationship between a food’s appearance and it’s nature. Turns out, that that mean mug is not for nothing.
Here be dragons. Stay away
P. S. Do you guys have any views on either fresh or smoked barracuda? Do you love it or hate it? I’m especially interested to hear if any one of you knows more about its nutritional profile. Please share, so we can all learn. Thanks muchly!