Lion fish nachos, courtesy David Hammond

Eating one’s enemies was a time-honored tradition among Scythians, Iroquois, Aztec and others.

Such “exocannibalism” (the eating of those outside one’s group) was practiced in an effort to dramatically demonstrate the total defeat of the enemy and to, perhaps, absorb some of the enemy’s strengths. This belief was built on a time-tested law of magic, also evidenced in the Christian Eucharist: you partake of another being to take into yourself the qualities of that other being.

With the Eucharist, I get it. With eating enemies, I really don’t understand how this would work because it would seem that exocannibals would be absorbing some of the enemy’s weaknesses (recently demonstrated in battle) as well as their strengths.

Even if there is no magical transference of qualities, however, eating enemies can be delicious.

At Flora-Bama Yacht Club, which is owned by a wild-ass called Flora-Bama bar on the Florida-Alabama border, Chef Chris Sherrill cooks up the lion fish, his avowed enemy.

You probably know lion fish. They’re very popular aquarium fish, and they’re very powerful looking, with spikes all over their bodies and tan and white stripes, like the big cat that gave the fish its name.

The lion fish is an invasive species in the Gulf of Mexico. They started living – and thriving – in these waters after they escaped from a boat that was delivering them to the pet store trade — the boat was capsized by Hurricane Andrew. Now they’re reproducing rapidly and taking over the reefs, endangering native fish, and making Sherrill angry.

Sherrill, however, has turned that anger to a good cause. He’s serving lion fish to his patrons. I had two helpings of Sherril’s lion fish nachos at the Foley Alabama Festival of Flavor. They were fantastic, which I don’t believe I’ve ever said about nachos before now. These nachos were fried wonton skins, some mildly hot peppers, a spicy sauce, green onions, fava beans, sea vegetables, and chunks of tender white lion fish, which had an almost almond-like flavor. This was a beautifully balanced mouthful of textures and tastes.

During harvests, it’s usually necessary to spear lion fish because they hide in reefs, so they’re hard to catch with either a line or net. Given this time-intensive fishing technique, lion fish tend to be expensive. But the cost may well be worth it, not only because lion fish taste good but because by eating them, you’re actually helping to re-balance the oceanic environment in the Gulf and Caribbean by eliminating an enemy that threatens the survival of the reef’s long-term resident species like grouper, snapper, tuna and other fish that we all know and like to eat.

The Virtual Lion Fish Hunting Lodge keeps track of where lion fish is served. Their motto: Eat Them to Beat Them.

If you’d like to hear more about lion fish in the Gulf, I did a short interview with Sherrill on Rivet News Radio.

If you’re curious about more cool stuff they have to eat in Alabama that we don’t see much in the Midwest, I have a piece in the most recent Newcity that covers lion fish, Royal Reds and black grouper.



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David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...

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