barracuda on a plate

When I hear the word barracuda, I think of the former Alaska governor Sarah “Barracuda” Palin, who somehow fell into her nickname in high school because of her skills on the basketball court. The Republican National Committee even played Heart’s song Barracuda at their convention, which really pissed off Heart. I think it’s odd, however, that Ms. Palin would invite the media to refer to her by her old high school moniker — she with the designer glasses and stiletto heels — as an actual barracuda is one ugly fish.


For someone as food obsessed as I am, the fact that I think of a politician instead of barracuda meuniere, or some other dish, must mean that that Mr. Ugly Fish just hasn’t been on my culinary radar. So when I was in Berkeley Bowl West a couple of weeks ago, checking out that great fish selection, I was surprised and intrigued to find barracuda cut into thick steaks. I had never seen barracuda for sale before, so asked the butcher about it. He had just told me all about the halibut they had, going through the fish monger motions of detailing where it came from, if it had been frozen, etc. But when I asked about the barracuda, his eyes lit up and a slow smile spread across his face. “I had some last night,” he said excitedly while leaning over the counter. “And it was fantastic.” Obviously, the halibut was a distant memory and I quickly asked for four pieces of barracuda.

Not sure what to do with this unexpected haul, I went online once I got home to look up some recipes. I was surprised to find that other than some sport fishermen sites, there really weren’t any food articles available. Most cooking blogs, Epicurious, All Recipes, and even The Food Network haven’t seemed to discover barracuda yet. There were a few recipes (barracuda burgers seemed the most popular choice), but the majority were for a cocktail made with vodka and Southern Comfort (which sounds terrible). I stared at my computer and started to doubt my purchase. I mean, if I couldn’t Google a recipe, then no one was writing about this fish. And if no one was writing about it then I was either lucky enough to have struck upon something unique and wonderful, or, more likely, I had just purchased a fish most people considered inedible.

I went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch site and looked up Barracuda. The result was interesting, but a little vague. It classified barracuda as Wahoo, saying it was often sold as Ocean Barracuda and listed the fish as a Good Alternative, which means it won’t kill you and isn’t endangered. So far so good. But when I called Berkeley Bowl and talked to someone in the fish department, she said that what they sold was definitely barracuda and not Wahoo. Wikipedia then warned me that the great barracuda has “been implicated in cases of ciguatera food poisoning.” It’s always bad when Wikipedia says your dinner can kill you.

Deciding that I would trust Berkeley Bowl — I mean, selling poisonous fish would be bad for business, right? — I decided to cook it up anyway. The fillets were thick and had the consistency of fresh wild salmon — dense with an oily silver skin that looked rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. I decided to grill the steaks with just a bit of olive oil, lemon and parsley. I wanted to experience the real barracuda flavor and so didn’t want to smother it in a sauce or even butter (no barracuda meuniere for me). After grilling it as one would salmon fillets, and preparing a nice grilled asparagus and fig salad to go with it, we were ready to dig in.

The barracuda was surprisingly flaky while also being incredibly substantial. It didn’t fall apart as many fish do after cooking and the meat felt almost plump. The flavor was mild, with a very nice fresh fish taste. I was interested to see that barracuda also presents well because the bone structure holds all the meat together beautifully, so it’s a good choice to serve to guests.

Overall my family and I really enjoyed our barracuda dinner. The flavor and texture were appealing, and it was fun to eat something a little different. Now maybe I can wipe my mind of old Sarah Barracuda.


Grilled Baracuda

Makes: four steak fillets


4 barracuda steaks
2 lemons (preferably Meyer) zested
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste


1. Mix the lemon zest, olive oil and chopped parsley together. Season with salt and a little black pepper. Coat each side of the barracuda steaks, using about half the mixture. Refrigerate and marinate for at least a half hour or up to one day.
2. Heat your grill to high.
3. Lay the barracuda steaks on the grill and lower the heat to medium.
4. Cover the grill and cook for 7-8 minutes. Flip and grill the other side for 7-8 minutes or until the inner flesh is flaky.
4. Remove the fish from the grill and top with the remaining olive oil and lemon sauce.

Barracuda 3 September,2009Denise Santoro Lincoln

  • ben

    I learned in the Keys that the smaller ‘cudas do not usually have the poison in them. The older they get, the more they accumulate in their system. I believe they get it from eating fish around reefs. Since they are so high on food chain, they accumulate the toxins.

    I also remember that someone told me the natives on islands will take a chunk and throw on an ant hill. If the ants eat it, it is safe. If not, they don’t eat it either. Perhaps Berkeley Bowl does this test, or maybe a more sophisticated one.

    Wahoo is usually a pretty expensive fish, I think.

  • Denise Lincoln

    In case you’re interested, Berkeley Bowl sells Barracuda for $9.99 a pound.

  • Jill Tregor

    I’m curious, how you would compare this to fish like halibut or chilean sea bass? I don’t east the sea bass any more due to Seafood Watch, but I sure do miss it.

  • Hi Jill — I’d say that barracuda reminds me of swordfish in its substantial texture and mild flavor. Sea bass and halibut seem quite different to me. I guess you’ll just have to try it 🙂

  • Hi Ben — I love the lore of Hawaiians throwing down the barracuda to see if the ants eat it. I suspect Berkeley Bowl’s fish distributor does something a little different!

  • I spent a lot of my childhood in the Caribbean, and we used to catch a lot of barracuda when we went fishing, but I never ate any of it. My dad was too paranoid about the poisoning risk, so we used to give it all to our fishing captain and his neighbors–it was a huge favorite among the locals, who all seemed to have a different story about how to tell whether or not a particular fish was safe to eat. Some people said that you should leave a penny on its skin for a few hours, and if the skin changed a certain color as a result, it was poison. Other people said certain parts were more edible than others. Others said flies won’t land on the poisoned fish.

    The article on Wikipedia says that ciguatera poisoning can be transmitted sexually! That’s just crazy!

  • ben

    I have always strictly followed a rule of not sleeping with Barracuda!! Now I have one more reason!

  • Be aware thought that Barracuda can have other parasites as well as ciguatera, cook it well!!

  • Denise Lincoln

    Hi Ben — Too funny. My mom told me that when she thought of a barracuda she thought of Joan Collins in Dynasty, so definitely follow that rule!

    Hi Peter — Good to know 🙂


Denise Santoro Lincoln

I am a writer, editor, mother of twins, and enthusiastic home cook. I was raised by an Italian-American mother who, in the 1970s, grew her own basil (because she couldn’t find any in the local grocery stores), zucchini (for those delicious flowers), and tomatoes (because the ones in the store tasted like “a potato”). My mom taught us to love all kinds of food and revere high-quality ingredients. I am now trying to follow in my mother’s footsteps and am on a mission to help my daughters become adventurous eaters who have a healthy respect for seasonal food raised locally. My daughters and I grow vegetables and go to the farmers’ market. We also love to shop at Piedmont Grocery and Trader Joe’s. When I’m not hanging out with my daughters or cooking, I like to contribute to cookbooks (including Williams-Sonoma’s Food Made Fast and Foods of the World series), work as an editor, and write about food for Bay Area Bites and Denise’s Kitchen. My food inspirations are M.F.K Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters — three fabulous women who encompass everything I love about food.

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