Triggerfish are a unique group of fish that consist of 40 different species, with the grey triggerfish being the most common in North America.
They get their name from their dorsal fins, which are locked in place unless you press a secondary “trigger” spine that is behind the fin.
With their unusual appearance in mind, are triggerfish good to eat?
Triggerfish are found all over the world and are regarded as great table fare. Let’s look into where they get their tasty reputations, and what precautions you should take.
Table of Contents
- What do Triggerfish Taste Like?
- Are Triggerfish Safe to Eat?
- Triggerfish Warnings
- How to Clean Triggerfish
- How to Cook Triggerfish
- Can You Eat Triggerfish Raw?
- How to Catch Triggerfish
What do Triggerfish Taste Like?
Triggerfish have an extremely white meat that is firm and very light tasting with much less oil and fat than most other fish. For this reason, it does not have a ‘fishy’ associated with other oily fish like mackerel or tuna.
The taste of their meat is comparable to other white meat fish such as sheepshead, grunts, and porgies.
I’ve eaten gray triggerfish before while fishing in the Bahamas, and the flavor of the meat reminded me a lot of scallops. Its a dense, white meat that cooked really well fresh on the grill.
Cleaning triggerfish? Now thats another story…keep reading below to learn more about why they taste great, but they’re a pain to clean!
Are Triggerfish Safe to Eat?
All but one species of triggerfish, the clown triggerfish, are generally safe to eat.
They have especially low levels of mercury and do not usually contain any parasites.
However, some triggerfish do contain a naturally occurring marine toxin known as ciguatera that can cause illness. Below I will go into detail about this and other precautions to take before harvesting a triggerfish.
Triggerfish are prone to accumulating ciguatera poisoning, a toxin that makes its way up the food chain from a reef dwelling algae that produces it.
Ciguatera is rarely fatal, but can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and other symptoms for days to weeks.
Unfortunately this toxin cannot be removed from the fish and is undetectable, so triggerfish need to be harvested selectively.
Ciguatera accumulates more in larger fish, so keep only smaller specimens and throw back any triggerfish over 5 pounds in order to avoid it.
On this note, of the 40 species of triggerfish, be sure to avoid eating the clown triggerfish, a black species with a yellow patterned head and white spots on its stomach. These fish are too toxic to be considered safe to eat.
To learn more about the various triggerfish species, take a look at the amazing guide created by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Another word of caution when catching triggerfish is to handle them safely. They have sharp dorsal spines that can contain toxins and they are known for biting.
How to Clean Triggerfish
Remember to use a very sharp fillet knife because triggerfish have especially thick skin and scales. Some anglers opt to use a box-cutter, because the ultra sharp razor blade is ideal for cutting through their skin!
Due to this, you should be very deliberate about removing the skin, as the scales are especially inedible.
Start by poking your knife into the skin just below the back dorsal fin, then run your knife all the way to the tail. Next, turn your knife around and cut from the dorsal fin to the skull.
Now you can begin separating the fillet from the skeleton by running the knife along the bones and towards the spine.
Once you reach the spine, cut vertically from the top of the head to the spine to free the top half of the fillet.
To separate the bottom half, lift the fillet and angle your knife more towards the body of the fish to work around the spine, then continue to run the knife along the bones until you reach the bottom of the fish.
Now you can poke your knife through the belly skin and cut towards the head until you reach the ribcage.
Cut around the ribcage and connect to the cut made previously at the head. The full fillet should now be separated.
To skin the fillet, make a small cut into the meat at one end, then flatten the knife between the meat and the skin.
Grab onto the skin where you made your first cut and pull the fillet towards you with the blade pointed away in order to separate the meat and the skin.
If you don’t plan on eating your fish right after cleaning, make sure to store your fish properly. If not stored correctly, fish can easily go bad!
How to Cook Triggerfish
Triggerfish is extremely versatile to cook due to its mild flavor, so it can be prepared in many ways.
Simple seasonings are best to bring out the natural flavor of the fish and baking, frying, or pan searing are all great options.
To bake triggerfish, cook it in foil to allow it to soak up the flavors. You can marinade it beforehand if you want stronger seasoning with lemon juice, cumin, and garlic. Bake it with butter and parsley at 325 degrees for 8-12 minutes.
Triggerfish’s white meat makes them great for frying. Just dredge in your favorite beer batter and cook at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes or until they are golden brown. Serve with tartar sauce and lemon squeezed over the top.
To pan sear triggerfish, lightly salt and pepper the fish and cook in a pan on medium high heat with butter, parsley and garlic for 3 to 5 minutes on each side. Squeeze with lemon juice to taste.
Can You Eat Triggerfish Raw?
Triggerfish are great to eat raw in the form of ceviche, sashimi, or sushi and don’t need to be dressed up much to taste good. They are known to have a sweet flavor when eaten raw that is unique to the triggerfish.
Triggerfish make a great alternative to more popular raw fish like salmon and tuna because they have a much lighter and less rich flavor due to their white meat.
How to Catch Triggerfish
Triggerfish are most commonly found around hard structures such as wrecks, rock piles, or reefs. Triggerfish will feed on almost any type of cut bait, with the most popular being small pieces of shrimp, squid, or sardines.
Triggerfish have small mouths, so using a size 2/0 or smaller circle hook is best.
Dropper rigs are most commonly used in order to keep the hook off the bottom to avoid getting snagged.
Next time you decide to drop some bait at the reef, make sure you leave room in the cooler for this funny looking, but tasty fish. Remember to handle them with care and select the smaller individuals.
Although this fish might cause a little more trouble to land and prepare than average, it is well worth it to get that delectably sweet and savory meat.
Thanks for reading!
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