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How To Make Watermelon Gazpacho With Lionfish

NOAA's National Ocean Service/Flickr

Editor's note: In the hunt for what to do about the various mix of invasive species found in Florida, we are running a series that not only describes the problems caused by these plants and animals but, well, offers a culinary solution. Tweet us (@WLRN) your ideas and tips or email us a recipe: WLRNMIA@gmail.com.


Origin:  South Pacific, Indian Ocean

Problem: Lionfish are non-native, invasive predators in Atlantic coral reefs. They consume more than 50 marine species, including economically viable ones like grouper, yellowtail snapper and spiny lobster. Although lionfish meat is considered safe to eat, capturing and handling the fish pose a danger due to their venomous spines. If stung, humans can suffer extreme pain, excessive sweating, respiratory distress and even paralysis.

Solution: Lionfish's tender, white flesh is an easy stand-in for grouper or snapper in ceviche preparations. At a recent charity dinner, Julie Frans, chef at Essensia Restaurant inside The Palms Hotel in Miami Beach, cured the fish in citrus juices then served it in a watermelon gazpacho. 

"Her lionfish is excellent — sweet and tender, almost like lobster," guest Bobbi Namath said. "Almost."

Lionfish also works well when deep-fried. The trick is to find a supplier or diver who will sell lionfish with the spines already removed, making the fish easier and safer to work with.

Frans got hers in a frozen block, spineless.

"I'm a mother," she said. "I have to go home in one piece, not poisoned by a fish puncture."

invasive julie mcb.JPG
Credit Marice Cohn Band/Miami Herald Staff
Chef Julie Frans of Essensia in Miami Beach with her lionfish watermelon gazpacho.


3 pounds of lionfish filets, diced

6 lemons, juiced

6 limes, juiced 

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1/2 watermelon, peeled and cubed
4 Roma tomatoes, chopped

1 1/2 red bell peppers, chopped

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped

1/2 red onion, chopped

1 cucumber, chopped

2 chipotle peppers in adobo, chopped

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

2 cups diced watermelon

2 cups diced avocado

1 cup toasted pepitas

1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped



1 .Toss lionfish in citrus juices and salt. Cover and refrigerate for about two hours.

2. Liquify watermelon in blender. Reserve watermelon juice in a measuring cup.

3. Mix tomatoes, peppers, onion, cucumber, chipotles, oil, vinegar and black pepper in blender, in batches if necessary. Blend everything very well.

4. Incorporate watermelon juice with the other ingredients. Season to taste.

5. Pour gazpacho in bowls. Add lionfish. Top with avocado, watermelon, pepitas and basil.

Tomorrow in the Invasive Species Cookbook: Snakehead Fish With Mango-Avocado Salsa