Tarpon is a large game fish found in tropical and subtropical coastal waters. With its large size and acrobatic jumps when caught on a line, tarpon is highly prized by anglers. But what about eating this fish – what does it taste like, and can you eat Tarpon?
You might also want to read: Why are Tarpon Protected?
What Does Tarpon Taste Like?
So what about eating tarpon – what does this fish taste like? Here’s a look at the flavor profile:
- Tarpon has a moderate to strong fishy flavor that some compare to mackerel or bluefish. The flesh is white, flaky, and quite bony.
- The tarpon skin is slick with oil, which contributes to the fishy taste. There is also a thick layer of fat along the back of the fish.
- Some anglers note flavors of shrimp or crab in tarpon meat, likely due to their diet. The flavor is not as mild as popular table fish like tilapia, trout, or bass.
- Overpowering fishiness and numerous tiny bones make tarpon an unappealing meal for many people. The effort of cleaning and deboning is often deemed not worth the taste payoff.
Is Tarpon Edible and Safe to Eat?
While not a popular table fish, tarpon are edible if prepared properly. Here are some key points on the safety and edibility of tarpon:
- Tarpon flesh is safe to eat, though care should be taken to remove all small bones during cleaning and preparation.
- To reduce risk of foodborne illness, tarpon should be thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145°F.
- Tarpon caught and kept from saltwater environments are lower risk for parasites compared to freshwater catches.
- Freezing or salting raw tarpon meat for 24 hours helps kill parasites prior to eating it raw as ceviche or sashimi.
- Pregnant women and children should avoid raw or undercooked tarpon due to increased risk of foodborne illness.
So while tarpon can be eaten, their anatomy and flavor profile make them better suited as a sport fish rather than dinner fare for most people. Proper handling and preparation are needed if eating.
An Overview of Tarpon
A few key facts about Tarpon:
- Tarpon belong to the Megalopidae family and there are two main species – the Atlantic tarpon and the Indo-Pacific tarpon. They can reach up to 8 feet in length and weigh over 100 lbs.
- Tarpon have silver and greenish-black bodies with large, thick scales. They have very large mouths to help them feed.
- These fish are found in warm coastal waters, estuaries, lakes, and rivers. They are tolerant of low oxygen environments.
- Tarpon feed on bait fish, crabs, shrimp, and other small aquatic creatures. They are ambush predators.
- Tarpon are popular sport fish due to their large size and fighting ability when hooked. They are sometimes called “silver kings”.
Tips for Preparing and Cooking Tarpon
If you do want to eat your tarpon catch, here are some tips to make it more palatable:
- Bleed and clean the fish thoroughly – Draining blood from the flesh helps reduce strong flavors. Scaling, gutting, and rinsing well are also important.
- Remove all bones and skin – The tiny bones make tarpon difficult to eat. Use pliers to pull out each pinbone. Cut away the oily skin.
- Cut thick steaks or fillets – The flesh stands up better to cooking when cut into 1-inch steaks or fillets compared to thin fish cakes.
- Soak in milk or citrus-based marinade – Help neutralize fishiness by soaking raw tarpon for 30 mins to an hour before cooking.
- Cook with bold flavors – Breading and frying or baking with lots of herbs, spices, or lemon negate the fishy taste.
- Make seafood salad or fish dip – Flake cooked tarpon and combine with mayo, vegetables, and seasonings for these dishes.
While tarpon is not generally considered good eating, its firm white flesh is edible if you take care to remove all bones and skin and prepare it thoroughly. Strong flavor and tiny bones continue to make tarpon more of a trophy catch than dinner fare for most anglers. following proper handling and cooking techniques can help make tarpon more palatable.
|Large fillets and steaks||Numerous tiny bones|
|Firm, flaky meat||Strong fishy flavor|
|Neutralize flavor with marinades and cooking||Labor intensive to clean and debone|
|Safe if thoroughly cooked and frozen first||Not a versatile table fish|
So in the end, the unique looks and fighting spirit of tarpon make them worth catching for sport fishing enthusiasts. Eating your catch is possible with proper preparation but continues to be an acquired taste.