How Do You Clean a Lionfish?

If you are interested in preparing a dish using Lionfish, you will need to clean the fish properly.

You can clean a Lionfish by first cutting off its dorsal spine rows and fins. Next, you must make cuts along the gill, head, and back. You can then cut out the fillet and remove the skin.

In this guide, we will describe how to clean a Lionfish properly. We will also discuss the importance of doing this safely.

Why Do You Need to Clean a Lionfish?

You might be wondering why it’s important to clean a Lionfish. Just about every type of fish requires some cleaning before it can be used for cooking. This includes Lionfish.

Cleaning entails removing the fish’s fins, guts, and skin. You can then use the remaining meat in whatever dish you intend to make.

It is important to clean the Lionfish before cooking to avoid getting any undesirable parts in the dish you are preparing. 

The Lionfish’s spines can be especially problematic because they contain a toxin. If someone accidentally ingests one of these spines, the toxin can enter their system.

The good news is that this won’t happen if the Lionfish has been cleaned properly. In addition to this, the toxin isn’t believed to be harmful when ingested.

Steps to Clean and Fillet a Lionfish

Cleaning a Lionfish is a relatively straightforward process. It is identical to the process you would follow when cleaning most fish. The only additional step is removing the fish’s spines.

The steps to clean and fillet a Lionfish are as follows.

Step 1: Remove the Dorsal Spines

Start by wearing a pair of puncture-resistant gloves. These gloves will help protect your fingers from the Lionfish’s spines.

Next, place the fish belly-side down on a cutting board. Examine its dorsal spines carefully and note the orientation of its spine rows. 

Red Lionfish have a total of 18 spines. 13 of these are dorsal spines located on their back. 3 are anal spines and 2 are found on the fish’s pelvic fins.

Now grab a pair of kitchen scissors and begin cutting off each dorsal spine at the base. This should be relatively easy to do with a strong pair of scissors.

Step 2: Remove the Fins 

Next, you can use the scissors to cut off the Lionfish’s pectoral fins and anal fins. Once this is complete, you should be left with a fish with smooth edges and no protruding fins.

Step 3: Cut Through The Meat

Next, you should use a sharp fillet knife to make a cut from the Lionfish’s gill plate upwards and up toward its back. 

You should then make another cut from the back of the fish’s head and toward its tail.

Step 4: Remove the Fillet

You should now have a flap of meat that is partially separated from the fish. Hold onto this flap with one hand and use the fillet knife to cut the meat, separating it from the fish’s body.

If you perform this correctly, you should have a single clean piece of Lionfish fillet.

Step 5: Remove the Skin

Place the fillet onto your cutting board with the skin side up. Use your fillet knife to make a small sideways cut just underneath the skin. You should now have a loose small skin flap.

Hold this skin flap edge and pull it to peel the rest of the skin off the fish. This process is relatively easy, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting the skin off as a single piece.

This step also saves you the trouble of having to scale the Lionfish. You should now be left with a Lionfish fillet that is ready for cooking. 

Be sure to dispose of the spines, fins, and remaining body parts safely using your gloves.

What Happens If a Lionfish Spine Pierces Your Skin?  

As mentioned above, it is vital to use puncture-proof gloves while cleaning Lionfish. If you attempt to clean the Lionfish without using such gloves, the spines may pierce your skin.

Lionfish spines contain a neuromuscular toxin known as Ciguatera. This toxin is extremely dangerous to small creatures, but it can also harm humans.

If this toxin enters your bloodstream, you will experience extreme pain and swelling. In some cases, you may also experience convulsions. In rare cases, you could even become paralyzed.

It’s better to be safe than sorry. So be sure to wear some reliable puncture-resistant gloves when you set out to clean a Lionfish.

Do You Need to be Professionally Trained to Clean and Prepare Lionfish?

You may have heard that chefs require a special license to prepare certain types of fish in the United States. This includes the Pufferfish, which is notorious for being highly poisonous.

The good news is that you don’t need any license to be able to prepare and serve Lionfish. This is because the fish is toxic, rather than poisonous.

This means you and your restaurant patrons aren’t likely to fall ill by eating Lionfish meat that wasn’t cleaned according to professional standards.

On the other hand, the laws requiring chefs to possess a license to prepare Pufferfish are extremely important. This fish’s skin, intestines, gonads, and liver are all highly poisonous.

Therefore, you stand a high chance of being poisoned by eating Pufferfish that hasn’t been cleaned and prepared according to strict professional standards. 

What Are Some Popular Ways to Prepare Lionfish?

Lionfish is becoming increasingly popular on menus around the world. This fish has been designated as an invasive species along America’s East coast and the Gulf of Mexico.

Therefore, governments and wildlife organizations have encouraged people to catch and eat Lionfish. This is great for seafood enthusiasts interested in trying an exotic fish.

Lionfish meat has a mild buttery flavor. The flesh is incredibly tender, which lends to its use in many dishes. Some popular Lionfish dishes include:


One of the best ways to enjoy the Lionfish’s tender and buttery flavor is by preparing it as Ceviche.

Ceviche is an ancient Peruvian dish made by curing raw fish in citrus juices. This curing process essentially “cooks” the fish meat, making it safe to eat.

Ceviche has since spread to different parts of the world and is considered a delicacy. Lionfish Ceviche is quickly catching on due the fish’s abundance and clean meat.


There are many ways to use fish in curries. Lionfish works especially well in light curries because it doesn’t have an oily texture or a “fishy” taste. This includes red or green curry.

Some people also enjoy preparing Lionfish in coconut curry. This pairing is incredibly flavorful and makes great use of intense ingredients like coconut milk, ginger, and red chili.

Beer-Battered Lionfish

Beer-battered fish is a popular English dish that is quickly catching on in America. As its name implies, this dish is made by dipping fish fillets in a batter made from beer and flour.

The beer contains carbon dioxide gas and foam agents. This gives the batter some extra flavor and lends to the end product’s crisp but light texture.

Is Lionfish Healthy to Eat?

Fish is often considered a healthier alternative to other protein sources such as red meat. However, some fish are certainly healthier than others.

The good news is the Lionfish is considered one of the best fish out there if you’re concerned about your health.

Lionfish meat is full of Omega 3 fatty acids. These acids promote better heart health and can even combat inflammation.

For this reason, you should consider making Lionfish your go-to fish option.

Do Lionfish Contain High Mercury Levels?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises Americans to limit how often they eat fish due to high mercury levels in fish meat.

All fish contain some amount of mercury in the form of a compound known as methylmercury. This mercury naturally comes from rocks and soil in the ocean.

Eating fish wasn’t an issue in the past because these mercury levels were still relatively low. However, human activities have increased mercury levels in the atmosphere by 450%.

This atmospheric mercury enters oceans and gets converted to methylmercury through bacterial activity. Phytoplankton then absorb this compound.

Zooplankton then feed on these Phytoplankton, taking on the methylmercury they contain. Small fish then eat these Zooplankton, and these fish are then eaten by larger predators.

This chain means that some fish species such as Swordfish and Tuna contain relatively high mercury levels. The good news is the Lionfish have relatively low mercury levels.

This means you can eat Lionfish meat frequently without having to worry about health problems from the small amount of mercury they contain.

Learning More About Lionfish

Preparing Lionfish is a relatively straightforward process. The above guide should teach how exactly to do this and prepare some tasty Lionfish fillets.

So consider getting some fresh Lionfish and putting your cooking skills to the test. Please visit our blog if you would like to learn more about Lionfish.

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