Cook your Catch – Triggerfish Face Nuggets (Tastes like Chicken! Maybe)


Cook your Catch – Triggerfish Face Nuggets (Tastes like Chicken! Maybe)

The Gray Triggerfish (Balistes capriscus) is one of my favorite eating fish you can catch when bottom fishing in the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. They have nice white meat that flakes well and is surprisingly firm, the flavor is pretty sweet similar to crab and grouper. If I could I would take some home every trip I go out, but regulations in the Gulf only let you take one per person home a trip for a few months out of the year. Considered a trash fish by many for a long time, now it is getting some proper recognition as an excellent eating fish. The biggest two problems with them though are they’re tough to clean and the fillet yields aren’t great. But what if I told you there’s a lot more meat than just the fillets with these guys.

Cook your Catch: Triggerfish Face Nuggets
Big triggerfish after a good day on the Party Boats

The triggerfish is one of the most unique fish you can catch in the Gulf. Their skin is akin to armor, with the scales fused together in a tough layer. They have a small mouth with chisel-like teeth that can chew and crush just about anything. I am not joking, do not stick your fingers or anything precious to you near that mouth. I’ve had triggerfish eat a salted octopus that was as tough as boot leather like it was nothing. They have a habit of lodging into crevices to avoid predators and locking their dorsal and pelvic fins to keep them out of reach. Their name comes from their second dorsal fin spin that acts as a “trigger” that will unlock the first dorsal fin. They have a bad habit of vomiting up everything when you catch them, so they will sling chewed-up food everywhere.

With how tough they are built you need a sharp knife and some pliers to really clean them for making these face nuggets. For just filleting the trigger, work your knife up from the tail along the back. You want to have the fillet knife blade facing out, cutting through the inside of the skin. This way will help save your knife edge, dragging the edge along the outside of the skin will just dull the edge as you try to open up the fish. Once you get through the skin of the fish it becomes easy, you can just fillet it out like other fish.

Cook your Catch: Triggerfish Face Nuggets
Leftover Frame with Edible parts removed under

Once you finish filleting the fish then you move on to the head and collar of the fish. This will be some Hannibal Lector level shit. Use the knife to lift up the skin a little on the edge, then grab it with the pliers. You are wanting to peel the skin off the head and collars. Once you completely skin the trigger head out, you can then start cutting out the head meat. From the skinned head/frame you can get two collars/throats, two cheeks, and two oysters from in front of the throat. To remove these use a thinner fillet knife and work along the bones. Don’t force the knife just follow the bones, you’ll be cutting just meat and connective tissue if you’re doing it right.

Once you remove all the meat from the head of the triggerfish, you can grill, fry, and roast the collars. The cheeks and oysters are best pan-fried or deep-fried. Another even simpler option that you can do is just bake the whole trigger head after you skin it. Remove the head from the body with the collars attached and just season then back whole in a tray. Then just pick the meat from the bones, though if you don’t like your dinner staring back at you I don’t recommend it. For this time I just chose to bread everything and fry it.

Triggerfish Ingredients:

  • 1 Triggerfish frame – skinned
  • Fry Mix
  • Oil for frying
  • Tartar Sauce
  • Lemon
  • Fries (optional)

Triggerfish Instructions:

  1. Trim your triggerfish collars, cheeks, and oysters
  2. Drop them into a bowl of ice water
  3. Place your fry mix (homemade or storebought) into a wide bowl
  4. Remove your triggerfish face pieces and shake off excess water
  5. Dredge the pieces into the fry mix
  6. Fry in 375f oil, put the collars of the fish in first, and let them fry alone for a few minutes, they will take the longest to cook through.
  7. Once the pieces start floating in the oil they are done, pull from the oil and let drain on a tray.
  8. Serve with some fries, tartar sauce, and lemon.
The Finished Meal of Fried Triggerfish Face

This was about an 8 lbs triggerfish whole, once I gutted the fish when I got back to the dock it weighed about 7 lbs. For just the fillets with no skin or bones that had been trimmed and made ready to use, at best they came out to 3.5 lbs of fillets. The two collars/throats, two cheeks, and two throat oysters weighed about 2 lbs trimmed. So just by saving the head of the triggerfish and cutting all the meat out of it, we have almost doubled our yield of delicious triggerfish. I’ve said it a bunch already in other articles on cooking fish, save the frames. Stop wasting meat, especially with how much work it is to get these fish back to the dock.

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Fishing Writer for An avid angler since I was little, based out of the South East United States.

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