Gar: The Forgotten Fish

Note: This post pertains only to the Florida/Spotted and Longnose Gar. The Alligator Gar requires a scientific permit to take in Florida and is illegal to sell in Florida.

Gar is a prehistoric predator fish. Its skin is ganoid, like armor, that can be difficult to remove from the meat inside. It is a predatory fish, meaning it hunts for it’s food. The gar ambush their prey.

Many call it a “trash fish” and mistakenly suggest it tastes “aweful” or “muddy”. Despite these claims, which largely come from individuals who never tasted gar, the fish does not taste “muddy” or “aweful”. It also shouldn’t be seen as a “trash fish”. The suggestion of a “muddy” taste is false primarily due to the fact gar is a predator; therefore, a good, clean fish. 

The gar meat looks similar to that of chicken but tastes more like gator. Some say it tastes similar to swordfish more so than gator.

Before fish were able to be transported miles away from their origin to be sold in supermarkets, gar was a popular fish. It’s primarily due to the advancement in transport of other species of fish that gar lost its favor and eventually became known as a “trash fish” as people were interested in the fish arriving from other regions.

Not only was gar popular amongst us prior to the ability to transport fish from other regions, it is believed to have been not only a food source for Native American tribes, but the armor-like skin of the fish was also used to produce arrow heads and other tools.

Gar may be prepared in a variety of ways. It’s popularly used in cajun cooking. We love it pan fried in bacon fat.

Due to a lack of understanding of this fish, you won’t find it offered in any supermarkets. It may also be hard locating even a local fish market that offers gar of any variety. We’re hoping to change that. As of this writing, we are the only market we know of that offers fresh gar.

If you’ve never heard of gar before, it’s likely because most markets don’t offer it. Because most markets don’t offer gar, it would be up to you to catch your own if you were to be in the mood for gar. Due to this, and the large misperception of gar, only a small percentage of people are aware of how tasty the fish actually is, and catch their own on fishing trips to bring home for dinner. We would like to see more people aware of this forgotten and misunderstood fish, and are providing a way you can get some gar without the need to find time to catch your own and learn how to clean it. Gar should be available for everyone to enjoy, not just the minority of weekend anglers that already do enjoy the fish. 

Aside from the few anglers who are aware of the great taste of gar and catch their own for dinner, gar is largely targeted today as nothing more than a “game fish” where sport fishermen go out and hunt gar with bow and arrow or spear guns; seldom taking the dead fish home to eat. More often than not, this fish is left in the water to rot, or the dead fish thrown back after the sport fisherman get’s a few photographs with his “trophy” fish. This behavior is not only disgraceful, it’s illegal. If you want to kill a fish, you should take it home and eat it.

Anglers who catch a gar, it is relatively easy to clean. You cut the head off and then cut through the armor along the spine – a pair of shears or snips make this easier. After splitting the armor, you peel the armor away from the meat – easier with a fillet knife. There is a vein above the spine you remove from the rest of the meat. Then simply fillet down the sides same way you would fillet any other fish. Remove the fillets and dispose of the carcase.

For those who have never tried gar, you don’t know what you’re missing. If you don’t particularly enjoy “fishy” tasting fish, then you’ll love gar. Gar is a very mild fish that takes on the flavor of the brine, marinade, or seasonings you soak or coat it with. It’s a very versatile fish that may be used in any number of recipes. You can try using gar in recipes which normally call for chicken or gator, or simply add it to the recipe for additional flavor.

If anyone tries telling you gar doesn’t taste good, ask them these two questions:

  1. Have you ever tried it?
  2. How was it prepared?

Chances are, you’ll hear they never tried gar and heard it tasted bad from someone else; who, likewise, never had gar. If they have had gar, it could be they just didn’t like the taste of it due to how it was prepared. It should always be prepared using a recipe you have a taste for. In other words, don’t prepare it with hot spices if you don’t like hot foods.

If you’re interested in trying gar, or you’ve had gar before and can’t find anywhere to buy some, you can place an order for some gar here. If you have a favorite home recipe for gar, submit it to RedsFreshFish@gmail.com with the following information:

  • Your Full Name
  • City, State
  • Title Of The Recipe
  • Full Recipe

All submitted recipes will be shared on this blog. Only your first name and last initial will be used in stating you as the author/creator of the recipe.

Further Reading:

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Catfish: Beneficial For The Body And Soul

Some people refuse to eat catfish due to common belief that all catfish are bottom-feeders, and therefore would taste “muddy”. However, this is far from the truth. Some catfish are scavengers or opportunistic eaters, but others, such as the flathead catfish, are predators. This means catfish will eat anywhere in the water column, not just along the bottom. In fact, most bites on our lines are along the mid-level and top-level hooks; the bottom-level hooks rarely have bites. No catfish that we’ve ever ate have tasted ” muddy” either. Catfish are actually pretty tasty fish with a great nutritional value.

Despite being “bottomfeeders”, catfish are low in mercury and other PCB’s. Catfish is also served in many places as a southern delicacy. Despite the rumors of this southern delicacy being a “bottom feeder” that tastes “muddy”, it is actually a quite healthy, tasty and affordable alternative to many meats. Many restaurants across Texas are even adding catfish to popular Mexican dishes. Catfish tacos anyone?

Catfish are growing in popularity on the dinner plate. Some reports show that catfish has been one of the most popular fish, and rising in popularity, since 2000 in the United States. This rise in popularity is mainly due to the low cost and, surprise, the great taste of the fish.

Nutrients found in Catfish:

  1. Omega-3 – Benefits include reduction in blood pressure; reduced risk for certain cancers, inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, and mental decline.
  2. B12 – Benefits include neurological health and normal red blood cell formation.
  3. Thiamine – Benefits include maintenance of a healthy appetite, digestion, energy production, neurological health, and skin and nerve growth.
  4. Niacin/B3 – Benefits include maintenance of a healthy appetite, digestion, regulates cholesterol, energy production, neurological health, and skin and nerve growth.
  5. Riboflavin/B2 – Required for enzymes (proteins) to perform normal physiological actions.
  6. B6 – Benefits include many aspects of macronutrient metabolism, neurotransmitter synthesis, histamine synthesis, hemoglobin synthesis and function, and gene expression.
  7. Folate/Folic Acid/B9 – Benefits include production and repairing of DNA; production of healthy red blood cells (lower risk of anemia).
  8. Vitamin A – Benefits include maintenance of the immune system and vision.
  9. Magnesium – Benefits include regulation of the body’s glucose levels, synthesis of protein and nucleic acid, and conversion of food to cellular energy.
  10. Potassium – Benefits include maintenance of electrolyte levels; which contributes to nerve impulse transmission, muscle contraction, and healthy heart function.
  11. Zinc – Benefits include proper functioning of immune and digestive systems, control of diabetes, reduces stress levels.
  12. Iron – Benefits include protein metabolism, production of hemoglobin and red blood cells.
  13. Phosporous (trace amounts) – Benefits include growth and repair of body cells and tissues.
  14. Selenium (trace amounts) – Functions as antioxidants that prevent cell damage and may help in preventing coronary heart disease.

Based on a 3oz serving size, Catfish have approximately 122 calories, 15.7 grams of protein, 2.4 grams of fat, and 0.6 grams of saturated fat. Catfish contains 31% of the daily value of protein, 4% of the daily value of fat, and 3% of the daily value of saturated fat.

The only dangerous catfish are those which are imported, namely from Vietnam and China. Imported catfish have been found to contain high levels of PCB’s and other dangerous chemicals not allowed in food products in the U.S. 

If you’re looking for a healthy and affordable choice for a meal, catfish is quite possibly the best option. When ordering catfish from a restaurant, always ask where it came. In restaurants, be sure you’re eating catfish that was caught right here in America. When opting to purchase catfish to prepare at home, always get your catfish from a local fish market who supplies American caught fish or directly from a local fisherman.

Given all the health benefits, and providing the catfish was caught in America, it is a healthy addition to your diet.

Further Reading:

  1. Catfish And Health
  2. What Are The Health Benefits Of Eating Catfish?
  3. Expert Opinion On Eating Tilapia And Catfish
  4. Catfish Health Benefits
  5. More Health Benefits Of Eating Catfish
  6. Catfish Unfried
  7. Why You Should Be Eating Catfish
  8. 3 Amazing Health Benefits of Catfish, From Winchester’s Best Restaurant
  9. Catfish Benefits
  10. Health Benefits of Catfish
  11. Report: Serious Health Risks from Eating Imported Catfish (When buying fish, buy local, wild caught)
  12. Is Catfish Safe To Eat?
  13. What’s The Dish On Farm-Raised Catfish? (We recommend the wild caught catfish; but if you must go farm-raised, choose American farmed)

Supermarket Fish: Is It Really Fresh?

When consumers visit the supermarket to purchase fresh fish, they expect the fish to be, well, fresh. But is the fish sold in your supermarket really fresh? If you were to ask the associate behind the counter how old the fish is, what would they tell you? How old would you accept the fish to still be considered “fresh”?

The average person views fresh fish as a fish that was caught same day to at most a few days ago. It would be nice to believe supermarkets follow this practice, but do they?

Typically, you will see fish labelled as ” fresh”, “previously frozen”, or ” frozen”. Obviously frozen fish is frozen. Previously frozen fish is supposed to be fish that was frozen by the processor and then thawed by the retailer; though it could also account for fish that was first sold as frozen and later thawed to try and push sales of the fish. Fresh is supposed to be just that, fresh. However, most fish labelled as fresh have been found to be out of the water for 10-15 days, if not longer. Fresher fish makes up for a minority of the “fresh” fish sold in supermarkets. 

Likewise, it can be said that most fish (primarily imported from either out of state or other countries) that are labelled “fresh” is in fact previously frozen. Fish that is imported needs to be iced/frozen immediately upon catching and/or after processing in order to be shipped.

One of the biggest issues with how fresh supermarket fish isn’t, is that most fish is imported and supermarkets normally purchase inventory larger than what they expect to sell in between orders in order to keep shelves stocked. Supermarkets are more concerned with profits than they are freshness of the foods they sell. Due to this, supermarkets try hard to make everything look and smell fresh; usually with the help of chemicals. 

Small-sized supermarkets, such as your “mom and pop” shops or local chains may supply fish purchased from local fishermen or fish houses. But most of the nation-wide and international chains most likely utilize larger international fish suppliers. Because of this, the sad reality is that the “fresh” fish in the supermarkets may not be as fresh as you’d like it to be.

If you’re ok with fish that could be as old as 15 days (or older), then you won’t have a problem buying your fish from a supermarket. But keep in mind that the older the fish is, the more “smelly” or “fishy” it becomes and it begins to lose its natural taste. The reason fish is iced immediately upon catching and/or by the processor is to lock in the freshness. But just as with meats, fish should never be frozen -> defrosted -> re-frozen. Supermarket fish really needs to be cooked and consumed within 1-3 days, in most cases, of purchase. Whereas fish bought locally from a fish market or directly from a fishermen can last considerably longer if stored properly, not to mention it will also smell and taste better than the supermarket alternative.

If you’re looking for truly fresh fish, the absolute best way to go about it is to purchase your fish from a local fish market or directly from a local fishermen. Buying from a local fish market or local fishermen, you are guaranteed the fish you are purchasing is truly fresh and not treated with any chemicals. Local fish is primarily at most only up to 48hrs old, depending on if it’s whole or cleaned and the type of fish.

Whether you buy your fish from a supermarket or from a local fish market or fishermen, always ask questions. Be sure you’re getting the fish you’re asking for and that the fish is in fact fresh. And don’t be too surprised when you discover for yourself that you’re paying rediculous prices at the supermarket for fish that isn’t really fresh.

Further Info:

  1. Supermarkets Accused Of Selling Fresh Fish That’s 15 Days Old
  2. How Fresh Is Supermarket ‘Fresh Fish’?
  3. How your supermarket ‘fresh’ fish can be THREE weeks old: Seafood bought from the big four was only two days away from rotting
  4. How that ‘fresh’ fish can be TWO YEARS OLD: From salad to fruit and bread, TOM RAWSTORNE reveals how old the food in your supermarket basket really is
  5. When ‘Fresh’ Fish Is Really Frozen
  6.  Sea of Confusion Over ‘Fresh Fish’ Definition : Food: Congress may intervene with bills to protect the seafood buyer. (This is an old article, but is still relevant)
  7. Supermarket ‘Fresh’ Fish May Be Two Years Old, Newspaper Finds
  8. 19 Reasons Why You Might Want to Stop Buying Supermarket Meat

What Makes A Fish “Good” vs “Cheap”?

Red’s Fresh Fish is one of many in the fishing industry that belong to the growing “Fresh and Local” movement. In this movement, it is sometimes mentioned that a “good” fish isn’t a “cheap” fish and a “cheap” fish isn’t a “good” fish. But what exactly makes a fish “good” or “cheap”?

Many will, and have, implied that it is based around price. A high-priced fish is a good fish and a low-priced fish is a ” cheap” or “trash” fish. In this post we’ll briefly cover some points that will be discussed individually and in-depth in future blog posts.

First, let’s take a look at the usual presumed definition of cheap – pricing. For the most part, fish is generally expensive. Less sought after fish averages between $4-8/lb depending on season, and highly sought after fish can see prices of $10-15/lb or higher. Price variation also comes into play on whether the fish is farm-raised, imported, or wild caught.

Working with the average prices, many people simply can’t afford fish at all or as much as they’d like to. Fish is primarily bought once to a few times a year in families that have lower-class salaries. If fish coming out of the same body of water sells at one price in an upper-class community, but a lower price in middle-class and lower-class communities, why should the fish in the upper-class community be seen as a superior fish? It was caught in the same body of water. In this example, lower price doesn’t make the fish a worse fish.

There are markets that try to make fish affordable to their communities, while at the same time pay their own bills and raise their families – albeit on a smaller profit margin. This is not to say, however, that all low-priced fish is of equal quality to the higher-priced counterparts. Always be sure to know where the fish came from. We will get into that in just a second.

Fish can’t always be judged by price and price alone. There are many factors that go into a “good” fish vs a “cheap” fish. A low priced fish isn’t always a “cheap” fish. Sometimes all a lower price means is a lower profit margin on the fish being sold, making the fish available to a broader market.

Now let’s take a look at where the fish originates. Is the fish you’re looking to purchase wild caught, farm-raised, local or imported? This is where it gets interesting, and where it really counts.

Most farm-raised fish aren’t taken care of properly, including being fed poor diets. Many fish that are farm-raised are fed pig feces, chicken feed, bread, and other unnatural food sources as their diet. They are also fed antibiotics and growth hormones. In processing, these fish are treated with carbon monoxide and other dangerous chemicals labelled as “preservatives” on the packaging. The majority of these ill-treated farm-raised fish found in supermarkets for our consumption are also imported.

The above picture is of Tilapia. One brand found in WalMart and the other in Winn-Dixie. It’s not just Tilapia, read the packaging next time you shop for fish.

Imported fish is a huge problem, in more than one area. Keep in mind that over 90% of fish and seafood consumed is imported. Aside from the fact international fish farms care more about profits than quality, only a small minority of imports is checked by the FDA for health violations. This means that the vast majority of fish in our supermarkets can potentially cause disease and it passed under the radar. All the while anywhere from 50-75% of imports checked are sent back for violations. What does that say about all the fish that wasn’t checked?

Many countries we recieve imported fish from either don’t have industry regulations, or the regulations that may exist aren’t enforced. This causes for mis-labelling of fish products and other fraud to go largely unnoticed.

This is why it is important to look for wild caught, non-imported fish. Yes, wild-caught fish in American waters is typically more expensive than the farm-raised or imported counterparts. But not always. There are markets and local fishermen that provide local, wild caught fish at the same price or lower price than the farm-raised and imported counterparts. If you look hard enough, you’ll find them.

In looking for the best deals on your fish, don’t just look at price. Be sure where the fish came from. The healthiest option is to buy local, wild caught fish. Even if the price is a little higher than the supermarkets, do you really want to put a price on the health of you and your family? Besides, with local fish you know what you’re getting. Your local fisherman or fish market can tell you where the fish came from or point you in the right direction if they don’t have what you’re looking for.

By buying local, you’re not only choosing to consume a healthier fish, you’re supporting your local economy and helping a local fisherman raise his family. To answer the question ‘What makes a fish “good” vs “cheap”?’, a ” good” fish is a fish you know what you’re getting and where it came from; a “cheap” fish is a fish that was raised in ill-conditions or processed poorly with only profits in mind.

Sources:

  1. What To Know About Imported Seafood
  2. Imports and Exports: How Safe Is Seafood From Foreign Sources
  3. The Heavy Burden Of Choosing Farmed & Imported Seafood
  4. Seafood Safety: What You Need To Know About Fish From China
  5. Farm Raised vs Wild Caught Fish | That Organic Girl
  6. Buying Fish? What You Need To Know
  7. Farm Raised Fish vs Wild Caught Fish | Quick And Dirty Tips
  8. Why Are We Importing Our Own Fish?