Are Spadefish Good To Eat? (Have You Ever Tried It?)

Atlantic spadefish are not usually on the top of the list when it comes to sport-fishing and angler excitement.

In fact, many anglers consider them ‘trash fish’, always lingering about on the edges of wrecks and reefs…

But do they deserve more credit? Are spadefish good to eat, and if so, what is the best way to prepare them?

Let’s find out.

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Are Spadefish Good To Eat?

Spadefish, if properly cooked and prepared, are a tasty, mild-flavored fish to eat without any significant fishy flavor.

Spadefish are numerous, easy to catch and give a tremendous fight for their size.

But so many fishermen view them as a trash fish to be tossed back as soon as they reel them in? Why is this?

In the United States, there’s never been any significant commercial fishery for them, there’s no commercial market for them, and that alone may give some the impression that they aren’t good to eat.

Spadefish are also sometimes confused with sheepshead, another large oval shaped fish with dark stripes (that is very good to eat!).

Are Spadefish Good To Eat?

Conversely, they are prized in parts of Central and South America, to the point where their numbers have been significantly damaged from overfishing.

The fact that they’re a little odd looking might have an impact as well. Spadefish look almost exactly like an oversized version of the silver angelfish you commonly see in tropical fish tanks.

They’re even called angelfish in some areas. So for some, eating a spadefish might seem a bit like eating a pet. Yikes!

The color of the meat might also put some people off. Raw spadefish filets tend to be grayish or light purple in color, making them appear discolored and unappetizing.

Most people are used to the rule that the whiter the meat, the better the flavor. Raw spadefish meat just looks like it would have a strong, fishy flavor. 

They’re also awkward to clean. 

If you prepare spadefish improperly, it actually does have a strong flavor. People who don’t know to remove the bloodline may be to blame for the bad reputation that spadefish get.

Furthermore, when cooking spadefish, they tend to emit a smell that’s much stronger than their taste. 

Despite all this, spadefish can be great eatin’ when done right!

What Do Spadefish Taste Like?

When cooked, spadefish have white, flaky meat with a mild flavor. The texture is tender and not too oily. It has a small, delicate flake but is firm enough that it holds together well when cooked. 

When the bloodline is removed, spadefish meat is described as being similar in flavor and texture to triggerfish. It is also commonly compared to the taste of the Florida Pompano.

The bloodline, if left in, has a very strong, fishy flavor. Some people actually prefer this.

Interestingly, if you cook it with the bloodline in, the fishy flavor doesn’t bleed over to the white parts of the meat.

If someone gives you a piece of fried spadefish and you remove the obviously darker parts, you’ll still have a very mild white meat left over! 

Are Spadefish Safe To Eat?

Spadefish have no innate toxicity or venom. Since they have a very wide-ranging diet, they may have worms or bacteria, but nothing that can’t be rendered harmless by cooking. The only issues with spadefish are environmental contamination. This takes two main forms, mercury and ciguatera toxin. 

The State of Florida has recommended that people limit themselves to one meal of spadefish a week due to the possibility of mercury contamination. 

In some areas, mercury levels may be higher so it’s important to keep up to date with any information about the specific water you’re fishing in.

Large Atlantic Spadefish caught by an angler

You can check fish mercury levels and human health advisories for your area by checking your local FWC information and guidelines.

The second issue is ciguatera toxin. Ciguatera toxin is produced by ciguatera algae that live in certain areas.

The algae are eaten by smaller animals, which are eaten by slightly bigger animals, and this continues up the food chain, with the ciguatera toxin concentration increasing as you move higher. 

Ciguatera probably won’t kill you, but it can cause some very unpleasant symptoms. If you’re in an area where ciguatera is present, you should stick with smaller, younger spadefish which will have a lower concentration of toxin. 

Is Spadefish Good For You?

Spadefish from a healthy water source are very good for you. They are an excellent source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and selenium.

How To Prepare Spadefish

Spadefish are a little awkward to clean because of their saucer-like body shape and tough leathery skin.

You can’t just cut from the pectoral fin to the top of the head and then cut back along the ridge of the back. 

Instead, after you’ve rinsed your fish, you need to feel where the dividing line between the hard head and the soft flesh is and slice the skin along that line. Then you cut a circular path through the skin, tracing the body of the fish. Now, carefully slice off the filet, following the contours of the fish and going over the ribs. 

You now have an odd-shaped, boneless, purplish/grayish filet with a very obvious dark bloodline. Cut this out. 

You can skin the fish if you want to, but many people like to cook it with the skin on. It all depends on your cooking plans. 

How To Cook Spadefish

The most common ways to cook spadefish are smoking, frying, or grilling. 

If you leave the skin on, you’re going to want to grill the filet. This is probably the simplest way to cook spadefish, and it’s delicious! 

Put whatever spice or sauce that appeals to you on the meat side of the filet and place it, meat side down, on the grill until you get a nice sear on the surface of the meat.

Now flip it over and let it cook until done. The skin will hold all the juices in, so you don’t need to worry about it drying out on the grill. 

Battering and frying are also great options for spadefish. Here, you’ll need to remove the skin first, but once you’ve done that, you can apply the batter or coating of your choice and throw it in the oil. It’s that simple! 

Battered spadefish are particularly good for fish sandwiches. 

No matter how you cook it, those odd-looking grayish filets will convert under the heat to a flaky, white, juicy fish dinner! 

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