Catching convict fish is a challenge, but cooking sheepshead fish isn’t quite as difficult. The toughest part of getting a sheepshead to the table is cleaning your catch. Sheepshead have large bones for their size, making dressing them a little more challenging than filleting your average fish. The best way to fillet a sheepshead is to scale it first, then lie it on its side and insert your knife next to the spine, just past the gills. Be sure to use a very sharp knife , or even better, use an electric knife. A wet knife blade wil work better because it will cut the flesh instead of tearing it. Cut down at an angle, avoiding the rib bones. Once the knife has exited at the bottom of the fish, slide it steadily along, parallel to the cutting surface. Cut through when you reach the tail. Remove any of the red meat. Repeat the process for the other side. Rinse the fillets and cool them as soon as possible.
The sheepshead is now ready to cook with sheepshead recipes. This fish has a wonderful flavor, much like crab or lobster. Good methods for cooking sheepshead fish include frying, sautéing, pan broiling, grilling, and baking. Sheepshead can also be used in soups and chowders, and they can even be used to make imitation crab meat. Because sheepies are very lean, you’ll need to cook them with fat of some sort. This might be butter, margarine, bacon drippings, olive oil, or vegetable oil. The fillets don’t have to be marinated, but marinating will add some extra flavor. If you choose to place the fish fillets in a marinade, you don’t have to leave them long. An hour is usually sufficient.
Like most lean fishes, sheepshead cook quickly, so it’s easy to overcook them. When the flesh is cooked for too long, it can get dry and somewhat tough. How can you tell when whole sheepies are done? Watch the backbone – the meat will draw away from the backbone. The flesh on whole dressed fish and in fillets will turn from almost clear to white when completely done.