A delicate treat but a vulnerable species, the crimson-colored hogfish is one of the hardest to catch fish in the world. So be prepared with right tackle box and gear because hogfish will not fall for hooks or plastic worms.
What is hogfish, anyway?
Hogfish, the only known member of its kind, lives in the Atlantic Ocean, with a range from Nova Scotia, Canada to North and South America, including the Gulf of Mexico, and it prefers coral-rich areas.
Hogfish feeds mainly on crustaceans which it finds by using its long snout, which, as you might have guessed, is the reason this fish is called the way it is.
There are two genders of hogfish and what makes t
he difference between them is a black spot behind the pectoral fins. All hogfish start their life by being females and as they reach the adult stage, some turn into males. Hogfish can reach a length of 36 inches and a weight of about 24 lb. It is a commonly targeted species by many anglers and is highly regarded thanks to its nutrients and taste.
Unfortunately, because of being overfished, hogfish is now listed as a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List. The Caribbean populations are already depleted and the rest of the global population has declined by 30% because of excessive spearfishing.
Barometric pressure is the leading factor to abnormal shrinking in hogfish, which is a phenomenon that has affected the species in recent years. In the regions where the barometric pressure is low a 12-year-old hogfish is almost 10 inches bigger than where it’s heavily fished.
That is because hogfish that’s longer than 12 inches are targeted for spearfishing, so naturally, only the slow-growing or smaller ones get to grow old.
That leads to a population consisting of more individuals with weaker genes as they get to reproduce more than the healthy ones. An unbalance in genders is also determined by this selective and destructive way of fishing. Males are preferred over females.
Given that hogfish changes its gender according to many environment-dependent factors such as the disappearance of a male, selecting males will cause a fall in female hogfish numbers. The time taken for the gender transition to happen is 3 months. If the fish is being caught within this transitory time there will be no male to fertilize eggs — and that is why the population is declining.
That being said, fishing hogfish should only take place within the current rules and fishing regulations to avoid the collapse of this species. Because they like to find their food at the bottom of the water, in the sediment, they usually don’t bite a hook and do not chase any bait.
Similarly to fishing snappers, light fishing tackle is the most productive strategy to catch hogfish. Fluorocarbon line can easily be used in this case, depending on the fish size. Chumming is needed to draw hogfish closer. Crushed shrimp heads, crabs or small shellfish will bring them right under your boat. It is vital to keep the bait as close to the bottom as possible.
Baking or pan-searing hogfish
Hogfish flesh is delicate, white and tasty and much leaner than others of its type. For that reason, it cooks fast and its taste goes well with tomatoes or lemon. It can be served with salads or rice.
The white flesh of this fish is ideally cooked by baking or pan-searing. Seasoning it with salt and pepper then dripping some melted butter and herbs allows the mild fish flavor to come through.
The infused flavors of such seasoning do not overwhelm the fish taste and give a finishing touch to your dish. If you’re a fan of Mexican food, hogfish can be used in fajitas recipes by mixing onions and peppers with some blackening seasoning and some salt and black pepper.
Saute vegetables into a large skillet and coat hogfish fillets with salt and pepper and blackening seasoning then cook for two minutes on each side. Splash some lime juice over the fish then put together fillets and cooked vegetables in the warmed tortillas. Top with shredded cheese and tomatoes.
As the ingredients for the recipe, you’ll generally need 1 yellow onion, 1 green bell pepper, 1 red bell pepper, 4 teaspoons blackening seasoning, Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, 2 to 3 tablespoons canola oil, 2 hogfish fillets, 2 limes, 6 tortillas, shredded cheddar and chopped tomatoes.
For grilling, you will need 1 stick of softened butter, 2 juiced and zested lemons, 2 tbsp Old Bay Seasoning, 4 hogfish fillets and 1 sliced lemon to place on the fish.
You will want to start by preheating your grill to medium-high heat then make some compound butter from the lemon juice and zest, Old Bay and butter using a stick blender. After spraying a foil tray with nonstick spray, you need to place the fillets in a pan and add 1 tbsp of butter on each. Using a cooking thermometer, grill the fish until its internal temperature reaches 145ºF.
Hogfish and tomatoes
Hogfish and tomatoes is another easy recipe you can try. As in any other fish recipe, you must be careful not to overcook your dish. Fish continues to cook slightly even after being removed from the heat so cooking fish according to its thickness is a smart way of avoiding a rubbery flesh.
You will need: 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp of butter, 1-1/2-pound hogfish fillets, 1 juiced lemon, salt and freshly ground black pepper, 2 tbsp of chopped chives, 6 crushed garlic cloves, 1/2 cup sliced shallots, 2 cups diced tomatoes and 1/4 cup white wine.
As an option, if you want your dish to have an exotic flavor you can add 1 tbsp of mango puree. Melt 1/4 cup of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat and sauté fillets in it for 4 minutes. After removing from the heat, drip the lemon juice on top and add salt and pepper to taste.
Sprinkle chopped chives then cover with foil. Saute the garlic and shallots into the same skillet where you poured the rest of the butter. Stir in some wine and cook for 1 minute. Combine that with the tomatoes and cook for 2 more minutes. Now you can also add the mango puree to taste, and season with salt and pepper. Serve fillet on a plate and top with the cooked tomatoes. The quantity should be enough for 4 servings.