1 pound fresh sheephead fillet, cubed
8-9 limes, juiced
2 tomatoes, diced
4 green onions, minced
2 stalks celery, sliced
½ yellow bell pepper, diced
½ chopped fresh parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 cup chopped fresh cilantro
For garnish: avocado or mango slices, corn chips, cilantro sprigs
Place sheephead in a medium-sized nonmetal bowl and add lime juice, making sure the fish is completely covered with juice. Cover and refrigerator at least 4 hours or overnight until the fish becomes opaque.
Empty half of the lime juice from the bowl. Add remaining ingredients, stirring gently. Season to taste, garnish as desired. Serve immediately and enjoy!
Some folks consider sheephead a “trash” fish because raw sheephead is said to have a “funky” smell before it’s prepared and its texture is more like lobster than fish. I’ve never been a big fan, myself. Until now.
On a recent trip to Saint Nicolas Island with a team from the USGS I was handed a sheephead and asked to prepare it as part of the evening meal.
I quickly set to work on a sheephead ceviche appetizer. It was such a big hit that the ceviche became the entire meal — all my other offerings became leftovers.
Ceviche isn’t heated, but rather “cooked” by acidic citrus juice. A chemical reaction similar to what happens when fish is heated occurs, causing the fish to appear opaque and its texture to become slightly more firm. Its origin is disputed, with links to the Americas, Polynesia and Spain, but some variation of this dish goes back more than 2,000 years.
Create your own twist on this ancient recipe by adding different ingredients such as hot peppers, roasted corn, or maybe sweet chilies to spice things up a bit. Try mango and cucumber for a cool tropical taste.
Remember, Always “Stay Legal,” and never take more than you’ll eat.
Pair your ceviche with a margarita on the rocks or an ice-cold beer. Here’s my all-time favorite margarita recipe:
2 ounces gold tequila
1/2 ounce white tequila
1 lime, cut into wedges
1 1/4 ounces Rose’s lime juice
1/2 ounce triple sec
1 splash orange Curcao liqueur
Additional lime wedges for garnish
Fill a shaker with crushed ice and add liquid ingredients and the juice from one or two lime wedges. Fasten top of shaker tightly and shake well. Rim outside of margarita glass with lime and salt, fill with crushed ice and strain drink into glass. Garnish with lime wedge.
Male and female sheephead have different color patterns and body shapes. Males are larger, with black tail and head sections, wide, reddish orange midriffs, red eyes and fleshy forehead bumps. Female sheephead are dull pink with white undersides. Both sexes sport white chins and large, protruding canine teeth that can pry hard-shelled animals from rocks.
Sheephead hunt actively during the day, but at night, as many wrasses do, they move to crevices and caves and wrap themselves in a mucus cocoon, which serves to protect the sheephead from predators.
During mating season (between July and September) male sheephead become territorial and defend their spawning territory. Dominant males lead the females in a circular pattern as they broadcast sperm and eggs, respectively.
All sheephead are born female. Most of them change to males following environmental clues researchers don’t fully understand.
To control the catches of sheephead and prevent overfishing, the California Department of Fish and Game in 2001 established regulations that restrict the catch size of sheephead and the areas where these fish may be caught.