How To Catch, Clean, And Cook Pufferfish [VIDEO]

By: Joseph Simonds on January 20, 2016
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how to eat pufferfish

Who else hates Pufferfish!

These weird looking, puffed-up fish are also known as:

  • Puffers
  • Toadies (Checkered Pufferfish that we have here in Florida)
  • Blowfish
  • The ugly puffy fish that grunts
  • Berkley Gulp tail biters…

But no matter what you call these fish, most anglers will agree that pufferfish seem to be up on the most hated saltwater fish list (right up there with saltwater catfish).

Heck, we even created a limited edition “No Puffers” t-shirt to celebrate our hatred of these fish (that frequently bite the tails off of our artificial lures while inshore fishing).

Note: Not for sale on our shop page any longer

no puffers

The Limited Edition “No Puffers” Salt Strong t-shirt

But did you know that there are many anglers (from Florida up to New York) that claim pufferfish are some of the best tasting inshore fish out there?

Yep.

Shocked the heck out of me as well…

But it’s true… and apparently you never have to worry about bones in the meat either!

So in this blog (and accompanying video) we are going to show you the truth about eating (and how to clean) pufferfish.

After you are done with this blog, you might even find yourself throwing pufferfish in your live well the next time you are out on the flats…

Are Pufferfish Poisonous?

how to cook a pufferfish

Let’s address what most of you reading this are thinking right now (because I know I sure was).

Aren’t pufferfish poisonous?

And haven’t there been countless stories about people dying in Japan over eating pufferfish/blowfish that weren’t prepared correctly?

Yes.

Then how are people eating pufferfish?

I’ll explain what I’ve been able to find our via some online research.

But first, let me distinguish between another misconception and terminology mixup that is frequently used in regards to pufferfish.

It’s regarding the difference between poisonous and venomous (two words that are used interchangeably but have big differences in meaning):

  • Poisonous Fish: Fish that are “poisonous” can only deliver their toxin in a passive manner (by being touched or eaten). A good example is that frogs are poisonous while snakes are venomous.
  • Venomous Fish: Fish that are venomous can inject their toxin into another animal but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can transfer poison due to being eaten by a human. A good example is a Lionfish. Lionfish are venomous but not poisonous (they are great to eat).

So are puffers poisonous?

Yes, pufferfish are indeed poisonous…

Here is a quote on pufferfish from National Geographic:

Almost all pufferfish contain tetrodotoxin, a substance that makes them foul tasting and often lethal to fish. To humans, tetrodotoxin is deadly, up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. There is enough toxin in one pufferfish to kill 30 adult humans, and there is no known antidote.”

But notice the word “Almost” that starts off the sentence above.

In other words, NOT ALL pufferfish have the same amount of poison.

In fact, there are at least 120 different types of “Pufferfish” out there (some grow to just a few inches while others like the freshwater giant pufferfish can grow up to 2 feet long), and the ones in the Pacific (where many of the horror sushi stories occur) are much different than the pufferfish in Florida.

According to Deer Meat for Dinner, the pufferfish/toadies known as “Checkered Puffers” that they catch in Florida have toxins in their liver (that look like a green substance), and are located up near the puffer’s head.

To quote the video below:

“If you see green when cleaning a pufferfish, either clean it off incredibly well or just throw it away and play it safe”

Important Note: Clean and eat pufferfish at your own risk and do as much research as you can about the kind of pufferfish you are catching before ever serving a pufferfish to someone.

Let’s discuss each phase of the pufferfish catch/clean/cook next.

How To Catch Pufferfish

how to catch pufferfish

Our friend over at Deer Meat for Dinner with his puffer/toadie rig

If you have spent any time inshore fishing from Texas up to New York you know that pufferfish aren’t that hard to catch.

In fact, many of you probably catch them by accident while going for other fish like flounder, redfish, trout, and snook.

Well, here is all you need to catch pufferfish (so easy your kids can do it):

  1. Super light rod and low test pound line
  2. A small long-shank hook (#8 hook)
  3. A small split-shot weight a few inches above the hook
  4. A really small slice of shrimp (with or without the shell)

Then just find a shallow grass flat or seagrass bed/sandy bottom with any rocks or structure that has some life. It usually won’t be too hard to find a few puffers around.

You can even try throwing out a few small pieces of your dead shrimp to “chum” up the water as well.

Important Notes:

  • Watch out for the checkered pufferfish’s teeth (these are the puffers you frequently see in the Florida shallows)
  • Do NOT throw pufferfish/toadfish on ice. The skin will stick to the meat and you won’t be able to clean it.
  • Never keep a pufferfish that has green substance in the meat. That is the poison and it should be thrown out
  • Always wash off the pufferfish meat incredibly well before preparing to cook

How To Clean Pufferfish

how to clean pufferfish

Cleaning a pufferfish is surprising easy (as long as you didn’t put the puffer on ice).

Here is all you need for a quick and easy clean:

  • Cleaning table
  • Sharp knife
  • Catfish skinning pliers (or pliers could work)
  • Something clean to place the pufferfish fillets in

Watch the video at the bottom of this post to see exactly how he cleans these pufferfish (around the 7:00-minute mark is the pufferfish cleaning)

How To Cook Pufferfish

how to cook pufferfish

These fried puffers/toadies kind of look like chicken drumsticks

Cooking pufferfish is pretty easy.

Some people like to leave the meat all in once piece and just fry it up (like they do in the video below), while others cut the pufferfish into two small fillets and grill or fry it up (that end up looking like two chicken fingers).

Make sure to watch the full video below as they cook their pufferfish in two slightly different ways (one with Everglades seasoning and one without).

Note: They start cooking the pufferfish at the 9:00-minute mark.

P.S. – You might even learn how to make grits like a champ as well…

Note: This video below showing everything from how to catch, clean, and cook pufferfish is from our friends over at Deer Meat for Dinner.

How To Catch, Clean, & Cook Pufferfish (Video)

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Conclusion

The next time you catch a pufferfish, you might want to consider throwing it in the livewell instead of throwing it back in the water…

Of course, it takes quite a few puffers to feed a family, but these little puffers are pretty easy to catch once you find them.

More importantly, do this at your own risk…

I have personally never eaten pufferfish, but Luke and I have it on the list of things to do this year (and we will make a video for you on the entire experience).

Finally, make sure to go check out our friends Deer Meat for Dinner and their awesome YouTube channel here.

Important Note: Clean and eat these fish at your own risk and do as much research as you can about the kind of pufferfish you are catching before ever serving a pufferfish to someone

P.S. – If you think your angler friends or networks would like to see this, please Tag them or Share this with them. You Rock! Pa-POW!

sea foam performance strong angler shirt

 

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PufferfishPeople
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PufferfishPeople

omg poor pufferfish they are amazing

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Good for you puffers are amazing lovely creatures

David N. McCune
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David N. McCune

I was born in Lake Worth in 1952. I can’t tell you how many puffer I have eaten. My mom had a friend whose son caught puffy to sell. One day she offered to buy his days catch. He would go to Boynton inlet on a incuming tide on the north side. Throw out a hand full of diced shrimp and wait about two minutes. Throw out another hand full wait about thirty seconds then throw a cast net. That afternoon mom called and said I need you to help clean some fish. We stood and cleaned 285 puffers. At least she fead me very well. That was a day I,ve reambered since 1971.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

I grew up in Lake Worth also… My Grandmother used to catch them by the 100’s off Southern Blvd bridge and my Dad, brother and husband all fish them every year at Boynton Inlet. Great fish fried and now I am looking for other ways to cook them. Grill?? Bake?? But we have all survived after many many years of eating these fish.

karen
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karen

POISONOUS?! my dad caught oodles of these when i was a kid in jersey and we ate them with no ill effects! lucky?? but i loved them! very mild and tender….yum! and id play with the live ones to watch them puff.
wow.
and we called them blowfish.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

We cooked and ate our first puffer fish tonight, they were great. It’s been a couple of hours and we feel fine👍🏻

alan
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alan

Here on Long Island in the 60’s at Captree State Park the Great South Bay was loaded with Blowfish. I distinctly remember watching a Blue-claw crab chase one in the shallows one day. A small piece of squid on a snapper hook and a small weight was all you needed during slack water. As the tide changed more weight was required. The pier was packed elbow to elbow with fisherman. Never remember taking home less than 2 dozen a trip. Now cleaning was another issue. The parental units made me clean all fish, which was OK but when it came to blowfish I could of used a lesson from a pro and a sharp knife and glove to deal with the skin. The skin is like a coarse sandpaper and my hands showed it at the end. Slow learning curve at that time.
Well in the 1970’s they disappeared from the local waters. Russian trawlers were targeted as the culprit. No one ever “thought ” that they were over fished by local inhabitants. And I’m sure it was a cyclic issue also. They made a few shots at coming back on the south shore of the Island, but people who didn’t know took them as juveniles and “treated” them like shrimp. No matter how hard you tried to discourage people from taking them they still took them by the bucket full. About 3 years ago they started to be caught on the North shore of the island. Most of the fisherman had no idea what they were and those that had an idea thought they were poisonous. Bottom line they are coming back in numbers on Long Island. I’ve waited 57 years for them to come back in numbers that I could deal with, now it seems like I can harvest a few.
If the North Atlantic Blowfish was extremely toxic I’d be dead. Clean the fish, smoke a cigarette, lots of hand to mouth activity.
This is a fish that could use protection here in the North East. I’m waiting to take my grandson out for them once i wrestle him away from his parents and let him come fishing with me. Going to be a wait, he’s only 9 months old.