Saturday, March 26, 2011

What to do with your spoonbill

Spoonbill Nuggets of Gold

Here’s what to do if your spoonbill snagging resulted in your having one in the boat. As with all fish products, the fresher you can keep the meat the better it will taste. Do not keep your fish out of the water any longer than you have too, and do not let it die until you are ready to process it for eating. It is best to start the processing right on the bank of the river where you caught your fish.

There are no bones in spoonbill and they have no scales, so filleting them is fairly simple. There is a long fibrous “cord” like a spinal cord that should to be the first thing you remove from the fish. This is best done by taking a sharp knife and cutting into the fish at the narrowest part of the tail, just deep enough to feel the cord but not to break it. If you properly cut all the way around the cord without breaking it, you can twist the short end of the tail off and pull this cord out of the entire length of the fish. I like to let the young kids pull this cord out so they can “help” in the processing. The next step is usually to cut into the abdomen of the fish and remove all of the “guts.” It is easier to do this if the fish is hanging from a tree or something. It is easier to clean up if you use a 5 gallon plastic bucket to catch the waste. This is good time to remove the fins too.

Keep in mind that the “red” tinted meat is not as tasty as the whiter meat; in fact, most of my family will eat only the whiter meat, saying the red meat is inedible. This means you might only eat about 1/3 of the fish, but they are big, so that will be more than enough to feed a hungry group.
Enough spoonbill to feed a whole camp

The easiest way to separate the meat is to lay the fish down as it would appear when it was swimming and cut perpendicular to the spine every2 or 3 inches so that you are making thick “steaks” out of the meat. Laying these steaks down makes it easy to see where you must cut to separate the red and white meats. After the red meat is trimmed off you should thoroughly rinse with clean water all of the white meat you are going to keep. This method will allow you to trim off the edges with skin much easier than trying to skin the whole fish at once. All the parts you do not plan to eat should be returned to the river where you caught the fish. The local ecosystem benefits greatly from having this “food.”

If you are going to freeze the meat place it in some water and zipper bags. Using water and getting all of the air out of the bag will help keep the meat from being damaged by freezer burn. Be sure to label the bags per the state regulations and so you are reminded of the date and who harvested the spoonbill. Smaller bags are best as this is boneless, skinless meat and will go a long way. The sooner you freeze it the better quality it will keep. We often share the meat from one fish with some family or friends.

There are lots of ways to cook spoonbill, but here are two of our family’s favorites. They are simple and easy. These are great ways to share your bounty with others.

Heat your favorite outdoor cooking grill, gas or charcoal, to medium. Season the spoonbill steaks with black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes. In our heart healthy diet we don’t use salt, but you can if you prefer. Most folks do. You can just use a seasoned salt premix if you want also. Soak a few paper towels with a bit of olive oil, and then wipe the grill grate to help prevent the fish from sticking to the grate. Cook one inch thick fish for about 3 or 4 minutes on each side. Cooking too long will dry out the meat. You can use a pancake turner or spatula to turn the meat over. Spoonbill meat is firmer than most fish and an excellent choice for grilling. Serve with a bag of salad and you have a very tasty and healthy meal.
Spoonbill steaks with rice casserole
(Photo courtesy of Christine Blue)

Another old favorite is to cut the fish into one inch cubes. Dredge it in a mix that is equal parts corn meal and all purpose flour seasoned with paprika, garlic powder, and black pepper. Pre mixed coatings like Louisiana Fish Fry work well too; they’re just not quite as heart healthy. Heat peanut oil in a fryer. Peanut oil is a bit more expensive than other oils, but it is much better suited for this than the others. A turkey fryer works best for feeding a large group. Heat the oil to 375 degrees. Gently drop the fish chunks into the preheated oil and let them cook until they are golden brown. Drain on paper towels or brown paper sacks. While the oil is hot why not cook some mushrooms or potatoes too?  I have very fond memories of the ladies in camp cooking freshly harvested spoonbill in large black cast iron skillets heated by our wood campfires when I was a kid.

Morel mushrooms from Cedar Rock Squirrel Ranch

A Memorial Day fish fry featuring fried spoonbill nuggets, wild mushrooms, crappie, and catfish is an awesome way to share the blessings of the Missouri outdoors in the spring. Invite your family and friends to bring their favorite side dishes. This might be a good weekend to get out your chainsaw and do some prep work for deer hunting and fueling your fireplace too. But that’s a different article, we’ll get to later.

Catfish fillets ready to cook or freeze


  1. mouth watering!!! Ahhh the taste of spring! good hunting & catching!

  2. I’m enjoying your Blog! And boy that looks delicious!
    I found your blog through my friend Albert at The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles™. I’ll be reading your archives as the weeks continue.

    Mike S
    Outdoor Travels and Adventures!