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Sheepshead Fish Recipe

Sheepshead fish may not be as familiar to your average American as other types of seafood, but it’s one of those fishes that’s easy to find and affordable.

What Is The Scientific Name For The Sheepshead Fish?

The scientific name for this type of fish is Cynoscion regalis.

This species was first described by Linnaeus in 1758, and has been around since then.

These are smallish fish, often reaching just 6 inches (15 centimeters) long — although they do get bigger than that sometimes!

They have large eyes and their mouths are very mobile.

The body coloration varies from light gray or brown on top to almost black below.

They swim slowly through shallow water, usually near rocky areas where there are plenty of crevices in which to hide.

Their diet consists mainly of crustaceans and mollusks, so they don’t need much food.

In many ways, the sheepshead resembles a catfish, but its fins are more like those of sharks.

That means that when a sheepshead gets caught up in line fishing gear, its fins will break off, leaving it dead on the deck.

Where do they live?

There are some places where these fish prefer to hang out, including along Florida and Georgia coasts, and even in parts of Texas and Louisiana.

However, they also live throughout most of the warm waters of North America, from Alaska down into Mexico.

It’s difficult to know how many survive because they are hard to see underwater.

But if you look carefully at the bottom of bodies of water, especially tidal rivers or estuaries, you might spot them swimming about.

How big are they?

As mentioned above, the size ranges vary, depending upon location.

In general, however, they grow larger further south, but still tend to range between 2 and 5 pounds (1-2 kilograms).

At the northernmost point in Alaska they can reach 8 pounds (3.6 kilograms), while in Washington State specimens weigh up to 15 pounds (6.8 kilograms).

How do they feed?

Like all fish, the sheepshead feeds primarily on plankton, microscopic organisms found in the water column.

These tiny creatures drift through the ocean, providing food for fish such as the sheepshead, who filter them out of the water using specialized gills.

Because these animals lack teeth, they must suck up plankton by moving their mouthparts back and forth over the surface of the water.

When the mouth is open, the fish is actually gulping down air instead of water.

How Can You Identify A Sheepshead Fish?

The name “sheephead” comes from its shape — in fact, it has a head shaped like a lamb! The fish also gets this name because of the large horns on top of its head.

They are called gill rakers and help filter food while the fish breathes through them.

These fish live in coastal waters and eat small creatures such as shrimp, crabs, clams, and worms.


A sheepshead fish grows up to about 2 feet (60 centimeters) long, making it slightly larger than most other types of fish.

Its body is very elongated, so it looks more like an eel than any other type of fish.

Despite its size, the fish is fairly light and doesn’t have much meat on its bones, which makes it popular among people who want something healthy to add to their diet.

Its skin is dark gray or blue-black and usually covered by spots.

However, some specimens do come without these markings.

Some people say they see eyes on the fish, but others don’t think there are actually any.

In addition, the fish often appears striped, especially close to its tail.

As far as color goes, the fish is generally silver around its belly and fins, although it sometimes shows black stripes along its back.

It also has a mouth full of teeth, unlike the majority of fish that only have two sets of jaws.

If you look closely at the fish’s teeth, you will notice that each tooth is pointed inward and backward instead of outward.

This fish is known for having a sharp spine on its back behind the dorsal fin, which gives it a unique appearance when viewed from above.

Most fishermen prefer using this spine to determine if a fish is male or female because it is typically thicker or longer in males.

In terms of gender, the only difference between male and female sheepshead fish seems to be their length.

Males grow up to 4 inches (10 cm), whereas females reach just 3 inches (7.6 cm).

Also, male fish seem to produce smaller eggs than females.

Females lay anywhere from 300 to 800 eggs per batch, whereas males tend to release fewer eggs.

Eggs hatch after approximately three weeks, and the larvae then mature into adults within another six months.

Dietary needs

Like most other freshwater fish, sheepshead fish feeds mostly on plankton and tiny organisms found near shorelines.

But because of how they hunt, they require different things from what other fish need.

For example, they feed off of microscopic animals that are too big for other types of fish to consume.

However, because of how they go about hunting, sheepshead fish aren’t picky eaters.

Since they don’t use their mouths to catch prey, they must rely on their sense of smell to locate potential meals.

That means they are able to detect minute amounts of chemicals in water.

So even though they can’t eat every kind of organism you might throw in front of them, they are still able to get enough nutrition to survive.

Another thing that separates sheepshead fish from other types of fish is the fact that they have a higher tolerance level for saltwater.

This makes them excellent candidates for aquarium owners looking to set up a tank filled with fresh water.

A good rule of thumb for setting up a new tank is to keep the salinity low because high levels of salt kill most plants and aquatic life forms.

What Is The Best Way To Cook A Sheepshead Fish?

The easiest method for cooking this type of fish is to bake or pan fry it.

You will want to remove the head from the body before cooking to avoid any possible confusion when eating the dish.

It also helps keep the meat tender while cooking.

You might be thinking that cooking a sheepshead fish sounds more like an art than science.

While there isn’t much scientific research on how to properly cook sheepshead fish, here are a few tips to help out if you decide to try it yourself.

  • It should be cooked over low heat so it doesn’t dry up too quickly.
  • For a more flavorful dish, marinate the fish in butter, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and paprika prior to cooking. Cook it until the flesh turns opaque and flakes easily between the bones.
  • If you’re using frozen fish, thaw it first by placing it in cold water (not ice). Then pat it dry to remove excess moisture. If it has been previously frozen, add 1/4 cup flour to a bowl and dredge each piece in it before frying. The coating prevents the pieces from sticking together during frying.

Best seasonings for sheepshead fish

While you don’t have to use all of these ingredients in every recipe, they work well together and provide a nice balance to the overall taste of the fish.

For example, fresh herbs such as thyme and rosemary go great with lamb and beef dishes.

They also pair nicely with pork chops and chicken.

  • Butter – A rich source of fat, which makes it a natural choice for cooking fish. Butter allows the meat to stay moist and adds richness to the final product.
  • Lemon – Lemon juice brings out the sweetness of the fish and cuts through the strong flavors of the spices used in many of the recipes.
  • Olive Oil – Olive oil provides a light acidity that enhances the fatty nature of the fish without overpowering it.
  • Salt & Pepper – Salt and black pepper are essential for seasoning food, especially fish! Salt draws out the juices from the fish, making it easier to break down the muscle fibers, which leaves behind a juicy texture. Black pepper gives the fish its characteristic peppery flavor.
  • Paprika – Paprika adds color and depth to the finished product. It also gives off a smoky, sweet flavor to the fish. Use ground red peppers instead of smoked paprika if you prefer.

Other ways to cook sheepshead fish

There are several different methods to prepare sheepshead fish depending on what kind of meal you plan to eat it with.

Here are just a few ideas:

  • Steamed – Place the whole fish into a deep pot filled with salted water. Bring the water to a boil and cover the pot. Reduce the temperature to medium-low and let simmer for 25 minutes. Check to make sure the fish is done by cutting open the belly flap to check for flaking. Remove the fish and serve immediately.
  • Baked – Preheat oven to 350 degrees F / 180 C. Cut the skin off the fish and place inside a baking dish with butter, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper. Bake for 45 minutes.
  • Pan fried – After removing the head and tail, cut the rest of the fish into serving size portions. Season with salt, pepper, and butter. Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a skillet over high heat. Add the fish and sear both sides until golden brown. Let cool slightly then serve.

What Are Some Of The Most Popular Sheepshead Fish Recipes?

The main difference between sheepshead fish and other varieties of fish is its shape.

The name comes from the fact that this type of fish has an elongated head on top and slightly rounded body below.

It resembles a small shark or even a human face, hence the popularity of the nickname “shark-face.”

Most people know about sheepshead fish because they enjoy eating them raw.

However, if you are looking for more than just a quick snack, there are plenty of interesting ways in which you can prepare this delicacy.

Below we will explore different kinds of recipes that you can try out when cooking sheepshead fish.

1. Grilled Sheepshead Fish Recipe

If you want to grill up a delicious meal, then this grilled sheepshead fish recipe is perfect for you!

You only need to use two ingredients here – sheepshead fish fillets and olive oil.

  • Step 1: Clean the fish by removing any excess scales with your fingers.
  • Step 2: Slather both sides of each piece of fish with olive oil.
  • Step 3: Season the fish with salt and pepper.
  • Step 4: Grill over medium heat until cooked through.
  • Step 5: Serve hot.

2. Baked Sheepshead Fish Recipe

Baking is another great option for preparing fresh sheepshead fish.

If you want to go all out, you could bake the entire fish along with potatoes and carrots.

Here is how to do it:

  • Step 1: Preheat oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 Celsius).
  • Step 2: Cut off the bottom part of each sheepshead filet using scissors.
  • Step 3: Using a paring knife, cut the flesh away from the bones so that you have a flat surface.
  • Step 4: Place the pieces on baking paper and season with salt and black pepper.
  • Step 5: Bake for 20 minutes, turning once during cooking time.
  • Step 6: Remove from the oven and serve warm.

3. Fried Sheepshead Fish Recipe

Frying is also a good choice for making your own version of fried sheepshead fish.

All you need is flour, eggs, milk powder, cornstarch, onion powder, garlic powder, parsley, salt, and pepper.

To make sure everything goes well together, add half teaspoon of baking soda as well.

  • Step 1: Mix the dry ingredients together well.
  • Step 2: Dip the floured sheepshead filets into egg mixture and coat evenly.
  • Step 3: Coat with bread crumbs and fry in deep fat until golden brown.
  • Step 4: Drain on absorbent kitchen towels and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
  • Step 5: Serve immediately.

4. Stewed Sheepshead Fish Recipe

This stewed sheepshead fish recipe is especially nice if you love rich flavors.

Just remember that you should always start with low temperature cooking first, and increase the temperature gradually while stirring continuously.

  • Step 1: Heat vegetable oil in large skillet over high heat.
  • Step 2: Add onions, celery, bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, salt, and water.
  • Step 3: Bring to boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer 30 minutes.
  • Step 4: Add tomatoes and stir thoroughly.
  • Step 5: Reduce heat to low and simmer 30 minutes longer.
  • Step 6: Add lemon juice and simmer 15 minutes longer.
  • Step 7: Add butter and stir gently to melt completely.
  • Step 8: Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly.
  • Serve hot.

5. Sheepshead Fish Stuffed With Crabmeat

If you like crab meat, then this stuffed sheepshead fish recipe is definitely something you should give a shot.

You can either stuff the fish with crabmeat before roasting it or after frying it.

In case you choose to roast it, you don’t need to remove the skin.

  • Step 1: Wash the fish under cold running water.
  • Step 2: Pat dry with paper towel.
  • Step 3: Combine ground pork, breadcrumbs, egg yolk, cream cheese, parsley, sage, salt, pepper, and chives in a bowl.
  • Step 4: Stuff the filling inside the cavity of every fish.
  • Step 5: Brush the outsides of the fish with melted butter and place on a rack set over a foil pan.
  • Step 6: Pour enough boiling water into the foil pan to cover the fish.
  • Step 7: Cover and bake in preheated oven at 400 F (200 C) for 40 minutes.
  • Step 8: Turn down heat to 350 F (175 C), uncover, and continue baking 10 minutes per inch of thickness of the fish (e.g., 12 inches = 25 centimeters)
  • Step 9: Garnish with chopped parsley and serve hot.

With these five recipes, you will learn how to prepare a mouthwatering dish that makes hersheedshead fish taste extra special.

Try them out today and let us know what you think of them!

What Are The Nutritional Benefits Of Eating Sheepshead Fish?

The biggest advantage of eating this type of fish is its low mercury content.

The FDA says that sheepshead fish has less than 0.1 milligrams per serving.

In comparison, cod contains about 1 mg/serving while tuna can contain up to 40 mg/serving!

Another benefit of eating sheepshead fish is its high protein content.

A single 3-ounce portion of sheepshead fish provides 7 grams of protein in just one serving.

Finally, sheepshead fish is also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and prevent heart disease.

How Often Should You Eat Sheepshead Fish?

The good news about this type of fish is that they are delicious when cooked properly, so you don’t have to worry too much if you want them on your plate more than once or twice in a while.

However, there are also plenty of people who try to consume sheepshead fish regularly because they think that doing so will help them lose weight.

While it’s true that consuming sheepshead fish can reduce overall body fat percentage, it won’t necessarily lead to significant changes in body size unless you start exercising consistently.

If you do decide to include sheepshead fish into your diet plan, make sure that you limit yourself to three servings per week (or less).

If you overdo it, you could end up gaining extra pounds instead of losing them!

What Are Some Of The Risks Associated With Eating Sheepshead Fish?

The risks associated with eating sheepshead fish aren’t limited to those who have allergies or sensitivity issues.

There are also health concerns related to consuming raw fish in general, including parasites, bacteria, and even viruses.

Many people don’t realize that they might be at risk from these contaminants if they choose to eat raw fish because many restaurants serve them already cooked.

The FDA recommends cooking all types of seafood before consumption, especially if there has been an outbreak of disease anywhere in the country.


There are several species of parasitic worms that live inside the body of humans and livestock.

These include tapeworms (which usually cause no harm), roundworms, pinworm, lung flukes, and liver flukes.

These parasites can enter an animal’s body through fecal matter, contaminated water, or by being eaten while undercooked.


While most bacteria found on the surface of meat do not pose any threat once properly cooked, some do, such as salmonella and campylobacter.

Some of these bacterial illnesses spread easily between animals and humans, and others are difficult to cure.

In addition to avoiding raw meat, you can also wash your hands frequently after handling raw meat or fish.

If you suspect you or someone else has come into contact with harmful bacteria, seek medical attention immediately.


Some viruses, like EEE virus, can survive in frozen foods for up to three months.

You can avoid this problem by keeping fresh foods stored away from heat sources.

Other viral diseases, like hepatitis A, require close contact with infected individuals, so you won’t be able to catch these diseases just by eating raw fish.

How Can You Minimize The Risk Of Foodborne Illness When Preparing Sheepshead Fish?

There are several ways you can reduce the chances of getting sick from eating sheepshead fish.

First off, make sure that they are fresh.

You don’t want any lingering bacteria or viruses on them because this could result in serious health complications.

The second thing is to cook it properly so that there aren’t any bacteria left behind after cooking.

If you follow these tips, then you should have no problem enjoying this delicious meal!

1. Cook at high heat

When you eat something raw, you need to take precautions against bacteria and parasites.

One way to do this is by using a higher temperature than what is recommended.

The best example here would be if you were cooking an egg at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In order to kill all the harmful pathogens, you would normally use around 145 degrees Fahrenheit (about 60 C).

By doing this, you eliminate most of the potentially dangerous organisms that could be present in raw eggs.

However, if you’re making a dish where you’ll be serving raw eggs, such as scrambled eggs, then you need to cook at a lower temperature like 180 degrees Fahrenheit (77 C) instead.

2. Never leave food uncooked

This doesn’t just apply to cooked foods either.

Even though you might think that you won’t get sick from raw meat, vegetables, etc., it’s still important to remember that we don’t know everything about how our bodies work.

Some people really can handle raw meats while others cannot.

If you’ve ever eaten raw oysters before, then you probably already know that the texture isn’t right.

However, it turns out that there are many different kinds of bacteria that live inside of these little mollusks.

These include Vibrio vulnificus which causes septicemia (blood poisoning), Listeria monocytogenes which leads to meningitis and encephalitis, Salmonella enteritidis which causes salmonella poisoning, and E.

coli O157 which leads to hemorrhagic colitis and hemolytic uremic syndrome.

All of these illnesses can lead to severe consequences if not treated promptly.

So even though you might think that it’s okay to eat raw shellfish, you actually shouldn’t.

3. Avoid undercooked meat and poultry

Undercooked chicken breast is another popular item to purchase at restaurants and fast-food places.

However, did you know that it’s also very risky to prepare chicken without first thoroughly washing it?

In fact, according to the CDC, “[i]ndividuals who consume undercooked chicken may become infected with Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC).

STEC can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration, kidney failure, and death.”

So next time you go to order up a plate of chicken wings, make sure that you ask your waiter/waitress to bring you well-done ones.

Also, if you’re going to buy it yourself, make sure that the package reads “well done” or “seared.”

4. Wash hands frequently

One of the easiest ways to prevent foodborne illness is by simply washing your hands regularly.

Make sure that you wash your hands with soap and water before handling anything that comes into contact with raw meat.

For instance, when you cut up your chicken, always make sure to clean your knife afterwards.

Also, avoid touching raw meat until you finish cutting it up and put it away.

And finally, if you happen to come across something that looks suspiciously like feces, then definitely don’t touch it.

Instead, throw it away immediately!

What Are Some Of The Common Food Pairing Suggestions For Sheepshead

You might consider sheepshead fish if you want something fresh, flavorful, and relatively inexpensive.

The meat from this type of fish is very lean and low in calories, which makes it good for dieters or anyone who wants to lose weight.

In addition, its high protein content also helps keep blood sugar levels stable.

The dark-colored flesh of the fish has a firm texture that many people enjoy eating raw.

You can cook it with any number of different sauces, including lemon butter sauce.

Another popular way to prepare sheepshead fish is by baking it in foil packets at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204 Celsius) for about 20 minutes per pound (454 grams).

This process gives it a nice crusty finish that pairs well with creamy mashed potatoes.

There are several varieties of sheepshead fish, including sheepshead bass, sheepshead flounder, sheepshead trout, and sheepshead tuna.

All of these species have similar flavors and textures, so they will work well together on the same plate.

If you like shrimp cocktail, then try serving up a few pieces of sheepshead fish instead.

It should go perfectly well with lobster dip too!

Sheepshead Fish Recipe

Sheepshead fish may not be as familiar to your average American as other types of seafood, but it’s one of those fishes that’s easy to find and affordable.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Course: Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Sheepshead Fish Recipe
Servings: 4
Calories: 120kcal


  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 six-ounce filets sheepshead
  • Salt
  • Pepper


  • Oil should be heated in a sizable sauté pan over high heat until it just starts to smoke. Salt and pepper the fish filets on both sides, then gently place them flesh-side down in the pan.
  • Cook the fish for 4-5 minutes, or until you notice the edge starting to softly brown, then flip it over and cook for 5–6 minutes, or until the second side likewise starts to brown.
  • Before serving, transfer from the pan to a dish lined with paper towels and let rest for a minute.



Calories: 120kcal | Protein: 0.2g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Cholesterol: 1mg | Sodium: 1mg | Potassium: 3mg | Calcium: 0.2mg | Iron: 0.1mg
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