F&B Spotlight: Venomous Lionfish Swims Onto Hotel's Menu

lionfish dish

Nestled on the Northeast coast of the Dominican Republic, Sublime Samana Hotel, a collection of 26 private suites and casitas, has introduced an exotic new item to the menu: venomous lionfish. 

In its natural habitat among coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific region, the colorful and prickly creature (formally known as the Pterois species) can be a nasty customer for humans to encounter. Stings from the fin rays of lionfish can cause fever, pain, and all kinds of unpleasantness (though they almost never cause death in a healthy adult). It's a far cry from the standard restaurant seafood offerings like halibut, salmon, and tuna, and might give a timid diner pause. 

But the actual meat of the lionfish contains zero venom, and once the fins are removed properly, the fish can be grilled, fried, or made into soup or ceviche. Once cooked, it's firm and flaky, which means this stinging fish can actually be quite delicious, according to Sublime Samana's chef, Cristian Baéz, whose Coconut Lionfish is introducing guests to this out-of-the-ordinary dish. 

"I came up with this recipe to remove the fear of eating this venomous fish and teach others it is quite easy to prepare," says Baéz, who takes a Dominican approach to traditional Mediterranean cuisine, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients (though not fresh enough to sting you). "It is not just a dish with fish, it is an experience."

Serving lionfish is not only pleasing the palates of daring diners, it also helps the wider environment. The voracious fish has spread far from its native Pacific waters and has become invasive to the U.S. Southeast and Caribbean, so getting travelers interested in trying lionfish can help control the population over time. A single fish can produce 2 million eggs a year, and they have no natural predators in the Atlantic, so consuming them has more general benefits.

"[Lionfish] have vast diets, and they are fierce consumers of the native species in our waters," says Baéz. "[Creating dishes with them] helps to maintain a natural balance in our environment as there is an overpopulation of the lionfish since they reproduce rather quickly."