Sheepshead fish are funny-looking creatures that can have you wondering, what does sheepshead fish taste like?
If you’ve ever looked inside the mouth of a fish or other finned animal, you’ve probably noticed the razor-sharp, pointed teeth many of them have.
However, that’s not the case with the sheepshead fish. In fact, the sheepshead has teeth that are broad and more closely resemble those of land mammals than its gilled relatives.
But there’s more to a fish than just its taste. You probably want to know all about its texture, how to clean and prepare it, and, of course, the best way to catch and cook this tasty ocean treat.
So, keep reading to learn all you need to know about sheepshead fish.
Sheepshead fish is quite delicious. Their big teeth allow them to eat shellfish – so you get a sweet flavor that resembles what you might expect from sand-dwellers.
What Does Sheepshead Fish Taste Like?
Does sheepshead fish taste good? Sheepshead fish is a little on the sweet side, with a flavor reminiscent of shellfish.
It doesn’t have the fishy flavor you might expect, which makes this unique fish even more interesting to try.
It’s also oily and firm, giving it a flaky, moist texture once it’s cooked.
Catching Sheepshead Fish
Anglers who are itching for a taste of sheepshead fish will want to head to the East Coast of the U.S. to catch them. You’ll find them in the largest numbers from North Carolina to Florida.
Your best bet for getting a good haul is to visit during spawning season in March and April. However, December through April is a pretty lucky time to find them.
These fish like to congregate around jetties, docks, bridges, and any other structure where you’d find barnacles. These sharp little creatures are one of the sheepshead fish’s favorite meals.
Sheepshead fish are only about 6-8 pounds, so they won’t cause you any problems in the weight department.
But, as you can probably guess, catching a fish with rows and rows of human-like teeth will require a special hook.
Specifically, you’ll want a small J-hook. Find one that’s no bigger than a dime; otherwise, you might have trouble latching onto the fish’s jaw. As for bait, any type of shellfish will do.
Tip: You can also use a circle hook if you don’t have a J-hook handy.
Cleaning Sheepshead Fish
Once you’ve caught a few sheepshead fish, it’s time to get them ready to cook. The first thing you need to do is clean the fish.
At first glance, the spines running along the fish’s back might have you questioning whether it’s worth the trouble.
But once you cook up and eat your fish, you’ll see that it was worth the hassle.
If you’re an experienced angler, cleaning fish is probably an old hat for you. But just in case you’re new to the fishing game, here’s a quick run-through of how to properly clean a sheepshead fish.
Gather a thin, sharp filet knife and a pair of fish cleaning gloves.
Place the knife at an angle under the scales behind the head and cut vertically up to the backbone.
From the top of your first cut, make a second cut 2-3 inches below the backbone and slice three-quarters to the end of the body.
Then, curve the cut down toward the front end of the bottom fin.
Turn the fish, so the spines are facing you. Then, slide the knife from the front of the backbone to the tail, inserting it all the way in once you pass the ribcage.
Gently pull the filet up and cut any remaining areas where the flesh is connected.
Cut through the section that attaches the filet to the tail. Repeat the above steps for the other side.
Once you have your filets, use pliers or strong tweezers to remove the pin bones.
This part is optional, but you can use your knife to slice the flash from the scales. You’ll want to cut as close to the scales as possible so you don’t lose any meat.
Clean the fish using lukewarm water to ensure there’s no debris or dirt left on the meat.
Tip: Hang onto your sheepshead carcass to make broth or stock.
For best results, keep the skin on and cook the fish between two pieces of aluminum foil. This will help keep the moisture locked inside and prevent charring.
Preparing Sheepshead FIsh
Now that your fish has been caught and cleaned, it’s time to cook. But what can you use sheepshead fish for?
Its lovely flavor makes it incredibly versatile, so you can use it for a lot of things.
Sheepshead’s unique flavor makes it an excellent choice for sushi or sashimi.
You can roll it up in whatever role you prefer and serve it with soy sauce, pickled ginger, and wasabi.
Tip: To further enhance the sheepshead’s flavor, you can serve it with a side of seaweed salad.
One of the best ways to bring out the flavor of a good seafood dish is through grilling.
In fact, it’s the perfect fish for grilling because it has a lot of natural moisture.
So, whereas many fish might dry out on the grill, sheepshead stands up to the heat pretty well, sealing in its flavor.
For grilling, your best bet is to marinate your fish for several hours, then throw it on a hot grill. It should cook up perfectly in about ten minutes.
Smoking any type of fish is a great option if you have the time. There’s no other way to get that delicious, smoky flavor that works so well with the taste of sheepshead.
When you smoke your fish, start by brining it for about 24-48 hours. Then, rinse any sliminess off the fish before putting it in the smoker.
Next, make sure your smoker is loaded up and ready to go. After that, you’ll only need to smoke the fish for about ten minutes to get juicy, flaky results.
Tip: Use applewood chips to enhance the sheepshead's sweet flavor.
Another quick and easy way to prepare sheepshead fish is by baking. It’s the most straightforward method and requires minimal cleanup.
Start by preheating your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, sprinkle your filets with salt and pepper. Then, add in your favorite ingredients.
Butter, parsley, lemon juice, and onion make a simple, no-fuss recipe that you really can’t go wrong with. Next, put your fish in the oven, lower the temperature to 400, and bake for 12 minutes.
If you like steamed fish from a Chinese restaurant, you’ll enjoy steamed sheepshead fish cooked in the same style. First, you’ll need to completely remove the scales for steaming.
Then, choose your marinade or sauce of choice.
There are two ways you can steam your fish. The easiest way is to use a steamer. If you don’t have one handy, you can use a wok or pan.
Pour some water into the bottom of the pan with wooden blocks, a rack, or another object on which you can place the fish. The goal is to have the fish above the water, not in it.
Once the fish is steamed, you can remove it and serve.
Last but not least, you can fry sheepshead fish. Frying is one of the best ways to preserve this delicious fish’s moisture and flavor.
What’s more, you can get creative with the breading or any sauces you use.
You can fry up the entire fish or just the filets. Cut a few thin slices along the side to allow the hot oil inside. This will help the fish cook faster.
You can use breading or simply fry the fish as-is. You need a frying pan or wok with oil heated to about 340 degrees Fahrenheit.
For a whole fish, you can fry it for 6-10 minutes on one side and 5 on the other. For filets, you’ll only need a few minutes per side.
Tip: If you’re cooking the whole fish, remember to remove the gills and fins.
So, what does sheepshead fish taste like? Most people think it tastes really good!
Sheepshead fish might be a bit of an oddity to look at, but its taste more than makes up for its lackluster looks.
Plus, once it’s cooked and on your plate, how the fish looks typically won’t even be a thought in your mind.
Since sheepshead fish love feasting on shellfish, they tend to resemble the flavor of your favorite shellfish, like scallops.
Whether you bake, fry, grill, or smoke it, you’ll be thankful you gave it a chance when you taste that sweet, delicious flavor.