For a long time, bowfin have been held in low opinion in the public eye in terms of being an eating fish. With that said, you might be wondering if you should kill bowfin like you might kill carp and eat them for food. Some people will tell you that you can, but is that advice misguided? Can you eat bowfin fish?
You can eat bowfin fish without it being dangerous, but most people don’t like the flavor because they don’t prepare it right. Incorrectly prepared, it has a soft, mushy texture. If you had to think about the flavor, most compare it to catfish with a meatier flavor.
Experience of Eating Bowfin
While bowfin will thrash and squirm after you have put them at the end of your line and they put up a spirited fight, most people don’t think you should eat bowfin—they’re wrong. They don’t taste as good as walleye, northern pike or sunfish, but you can prepare them so that they will taste better.
The flesh of bowfin is soft and jellylike when incorrectly prepared, and while it might be edible, most people wouldn’t consider it worth eating. When prepared wrong, they’d be right.
Also worth noting, they call the bowfin the mudfish for a reason. It has a strong flavor of mud, which is why many bowfishermen won’t eat them. As one bowfisherman reports, “They’re edible, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat it.”
The other thing worth noting is that bowfin accumulate mercury in their body, and the older the bowfin, the more mercury it will have. In particular, pregnant women must be careful because of how mercury can harm an unborn child. It can harm parts of the child’s body like the lungs, kidneys and nervous system. In addition, it could harm a young child’s nervous system as well. That said, the mercury issue is true of any predatory fish. You can learn more about mercury issues with fish here.
If you did decide to eat bowfin, you should cook it right away to keep the meat from turning mushy. Don’t worry, we’ll show you how to properly prepare it soon so that it tastes good.
What Does Bowfin Taste Like?
How they taste depends on your cooking method. In Louisiana, they have come to be known as cotton fish, which describes the texture of it unless you cook it right. You can combat the texture of bowfin by cutting it like chicken fingers, and that’s the method that I would recommend. You might compare the taste to alligator gar in some ways or catfish as we said above when done right.
You would definitely call bowfin an acquired taste. A lot of people won’t like it, but some people do call it good eating. That said, most people don’t. I’ve had it to where it did taste good, however. Bowfin have small bones that you have to be careful of. As you chop the fillets, direct your efforts away from the stomach region. That is where the bowfin caught its nickname, the mudfish because it tastes like mud.
Bowfin Preparation—9 Tips for Eating It
How you prepare the bowfin will have an impact on the flavor. The preparation stages to create a good flavor are crucial but tricky. You can go wrong in several ways. First, you can’t put water on this fish without impacting the flavor. Avoid it at all costs. If you put water on it and don’t burn it as a result, it will negatively impact the flavor. Second, you can’t put this fish in the fridge and cook it tomorrow morning because the water will impact the meat and make it mushy and difficult to eat.
When you prepare bowfin right, it will have a meatier texture than other fish. As soon as you catch a bowfin, you take it home and start frying it up. Waiting will make it taste bad, which is why many fishermen have had a bad experience with eating bowfin. If you don’t have the time to cook it right away, put it back in the water and let it go. It’s not worth it, otherwise. This isn’t an invasive fish species like the snakehead.
Let’s take the example of someone who tries to put it in the fridge for tomorrow. In one case, the individual had the bowfin meat turn entirely to mush and run through his fingers when he went to cook it. He couldn’t even attempt cooking it. That flavor would’ve been downright scary. We’ll show you how to make it taste right, and you can decide for yourself if you want to try it.
Tip #1 Fillet It While Alive: You want to fillet this fish while alive because it will let the blood run out of it. The blood is responsible for the muddy taste of the fish. Unlike other fish, bowfin can store oxygen in their blood. For those who have a light stomach, this may be too gruesome, but the average fisherman who eats fish and fillets them won’t have a problem.
Tip #2 Don’t Put Water On It: We already talked about not putting water on it, but we can’t emphasize that enough. If you don’t put water on it at all, it will hold its shape without becoming mushy. As soon as you put water on it, however, it turns to mush, making it inedible. Don’t put water of any kind on it. It’s better to avoid it altogether for the best results when cooking.
Tip #3 Take Paper Towels to Pat the Meat: You take a roll of paper towels to pat down the meat and eliminate the blood to get rid of the muddy flavor. Again, we can’t use water on the meat because it will badly impact the texture to the point that you will struggle to eat it. While you can’t clean it with water, you still want it clean. Otherwise, it would be like eating bloody meat. Be sure to clean the scales off the meat as well. The scales on the bowfin are solid, and he has some tough scales. You may want to use an electric fillet knife to clean it in the initial stages.
The Bubba 110V Electric Fillet Knife is a great knife to clean it with because it can get past the scales. It also has a slip-free handle making it ideal for fish, which can be slippery.
Tip #4 Cut It in Half and Make Nuggets: Next, you will cut the two separate bowfin fillets in half to make it into four separate pieces. You don’t need to hit it exactly at the middle part, but you want it close for the portion sizes. Next, you will cut it crossways against the grain like you were cutting fish sticks out of it.
Tip #5 Grilling vs Frying: You can grill bowfin, and it will taste incredible if prepared right. Most people choose to fry it, but you can cook it on the grill as well, and it will taste equally as good. You can also cook it on the Blackstone. With whatever cooking method that you choose, the preparation steps will all carry the same steps.
Tip #6 Use Tinfoil for Grilling: With grilling the fish, we would recommend that you use tinfoil before cutting it up into fish sticks. You will put lemon pepper, Tony’s Original Creole Seasoning and lemon juice (optional). We would only recommend the last one if you like lemon on your fish.
Tip #7 Don’t Let the Bowfin Die: If you let the bowfin die before you can cook it, he won’t taste good because you need to let the blood run out of the fish while he’s alive. You must fillet it while alive for the best flavor. This fish is extremely finicky with how you prepare it, which explains why many people don’t like bowfin. They try it one time, if at all, have a bad experience and never try it again because they don’t know how to prepare it.
I was that guy, and I very hesitantly tried it a second time when a buddy showed me.
Tip #8 Good Fish to Learn How to Fillet: The bowfin offers you an awesome chance to learn how to fillet if new to filleting fish because of how it has a thick meat, and you won’t cut through it easily. In comparison to learning on a catfish, the bowfin is much easier to learn filleting on.
Tip #9 Beware of Making the Meat Cuts Too Thick: You don’t want the meat cuts too thick because of how it won’t cook as well. Make sure that the meat cuts don’t have as much thickness for the best results.
To begin cooking, we will assume that you have taken the proper steps to prepare it. Remember—good preparation will give you the best flavor in the meat. You want to prepare so that the following steps will make it taste good.
- Take yellow corn meal and put it in a bowl.
- Grab a handful of Tony’s Original Creole Seasoning and throw it in the bowl.
- Add about the same amount of salt.
- Mix the bowl up well to give it the best seasoning. You want an even mixing throughout the bowl.
- Don’t wash anything with the fish. Remember, water will hurt the flavor. Take the fillets and put them directly into the bowl for seasoning.
- Once you have the fillets in the bowl, you wil cover the bowl and start shaking it to put the mixture over the fish fillets.
- After you have shaken it up, the mixture should take to the meat.
- Fire up the fryer or the grill and add the fillets into the oil once it becomes hot. You want it at about 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
- You will cook the meat for 12 minutes, give or take. You will know they’re done when golden brown.
Once you have done that, give the meat a try and see if you like it. Provided you prepared it properly, you may find that you like it. This isn’t the fish for everyone, but some people may say it in a new light.
The biggest problem with bowfin is that many people don’t know how to prepare it, and this meat is very finicky. If not prepared in the way outlined, it won’t taste good.
Try It for Yourself
The only way to learn if bowfin is edible is by trying it for yourself. When I first had bowfin, I didn’t like the flavor because I didn’t prepare it right. A buddy of mine showed me how to prepare it, and it tasted much better after that. Everyone will be different, and if you have the opportunity to try it, I would recommend it. You can’t be harmed by trying it one time.
With that said, the average person who doesn’t prepare it correctly may want to just throw it away or let the fish go back into the water before that point.
Bowfin Caviar: What Does It Taste Like?
While eating bowfin has never been popular, one thing that has picked up in popularity has been to eat bowfin eggs. Bowfin caviar has a jet black color, and they are firm. The taste is mildly tangy and earthy. In particular, bowfin caviar has picked up in popularity in the southern United States like Louisiana where it has the name Cajun Caviar. In South America, they call it Chourpique.
If you’d like to know what bowfin caviar tastes like, you can buy some American bowfin black caviar here. We would call it a less expensive version of sturgeon caviar. Many people have even liked it. They taste small, crunchy, mild and not overly salty. Bowfin black caviar offers you a great introduction to caviar if you never had it before.
For anyone wondering if it is Kosher, they don’t consider this Kosher in the Orthodox Union. Most caviar isn’t Kosher and when you find a Kosher, it is rare.
Bowfin caviar versus sturgeon caviar costs less. However, it doesn’t have the same stellar reputation as sturgeon caviar. In comparison to sturgeon caviar, sturgeon will taste much like the sea, but neither sturgeon nor bowfin caviar should have an overly fishy flavor.
Bowfin and Prevailing Negative Beliefs
You might be wondering to yourself, “Is bowfin dogfish?” Yes, bowfin is the same as dogfish, and if you know anything about dogfish, it has received an unjustified reputation. This native fish has existed in North America for thousands of years. You can learn more about this fascinating living fossil here.
Usually, when you catch a bowfin, you will hear the conversation go something along these lines, “You caught a dogfish? You didn’t put it back, did you? Dogfish kill other fish for fun!”
In truth, bowfin do not kill other fish for fun. They act as scavengers, and they eat some of the other fish that people love, but because they’re a native fish species, they should be left alone. Most likely, bowfin receive a bad reputation because they taste bad when prepared wrong, and they look like the invasive snakehead species. The snakehead brings diseases to native fish populations that can kill them off.
You can tell bowfin apart from snakeheads because snakeheads have one big long and continuous anal fin, while the bowfin’s anal fin is more like a regular fin. Bowfin don’t overpopulate, and they don’t cause any harm to other fish. Not only that, but they’re a native fish species: all the more reason to leave them alone.
Don’t Kill Bowfin if You Don’t Eat Them
People who say to kill bowfin speak from ignorance, rather than truth. Bowfin is like the snakehead in that it has a set of lungs, which allows it to survive on land for an amount of time. In fact, one recorded case of it surviving had the bowfin alive for up to 21 days in a dried up pond. Compare that to a northern pike, they can only live five minutes out of water.
That said, in some states like Indiana, they require you to kill snakeheads if you catch them, but these aren’t considered good eating anyhow. You should check your local laws to ensure that it is legal if you practice catch and release of a snakehead. With bowfishing, that never becomes a problem, however, because of how shooting a fish with a bow will kill the fish.
The problem is that a lot of people don’t know how to distinguish snakeheads from bowfin, and as a result, they kill them both. Bowfin do not have a continuous backfin while a snakehead does. When handling the bowfin, be careful because they have been known to bite without warning. This fish has fearsome teeth like a mouth full of canines, and they have been known to bite through fishing line.
You should only kill a bowfin if you intend to eat it.
Great Fighting Fish
If you have ever had a dogfish thrashing at the end of your line, you know what a fight these fish can put up. In fact, bowfin are one of the few species that do the deathroll like gators. They put up a furious fight. Many anglers even respect the bowfin because of its fighting capabilities. It puts up one of the hardest fights out of all the freshwater fish species. They fight harder than bass.
Check out this short video to see how a bowfin fights:
Provided you have prepared the bowfin correctly before you go to cook it, it will taste fine. In fact, I have known people who call it one of the best-tasting fish species around. That said, you have to prepare it right. In particular, people in the South like Mississippi seem to have the best understanding of how to cook it. If you don’t plan to eat it, you may want to release them back into the water. Some fishermen even believe that bowfin are beneficial to the local waters and the surrounding fish.
Not to mention, they never take over the waters like what carp do. In addition, they’re native, and that especially is why you shouldn’t kill them unless you plan to eat them.