The puffer fish are back… specifically the Northern puffer fish…or blow toads…or for the scientifically oriented Sphoeroides maculatus.
It’s that little fish that young anglers love to catch because when they tickle the fish’s belly it blows up. Obviously a defensive measure, but let’s face it—from a human perspective, it’s pretty cool.
The Outer Banks fishing reports that have been coming in for the past week from the piers are reporting puffer fish landings. And it’s important to note these are northern puffer fish, and not any other species of puffer fish, many of which are poisonous.
Most anglers throw their puffer fish catch back, which is fine—it keeps the population strong and viable. However, northern puffer is actually considered very good eating.
During WWII puffer was harvested commercially as a protein to substitute for the meat that was being sent overseas.
It’s a white fleshed fish with a mild flavor.
We found a recipe for fried puffer—they’re calling them sugar toads—but it’s the same fish. We saw this recipe in a number of places so we’re not sure where it originated.
Buttermilk Fried Sugar Toads with Homemade Tartar Sauce
If you don't have experience cleaning sugar toads, have your fishmonger do the job since their skin is very tough to remove and has a sandpaper quality to it. Sugar toads are best eaten by hand much like a piece of fried chicken.
1 pound Atlantic Pufferfish (a.k.a. sugar toads), cleaned with skin/fins removed
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
Pinch of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
Oil (or Crisco) for frying
Preheat oil to about a 1 1/2 inch depth in a cast-iron skillet until a thermometer reaches 375 degrees. Meanwhile, in a shallow dish mix together cornmeal, flour, Old Bay, and peppers. In another small dish, whisk together egg and buttermilk.
Pick up sugar toads by the tailfin and dip them in the buttermilk mixture and then dredge in flour mixture. Fry (being careful not to crowd the fish) in hot oil until lightly brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels or a wire rack set over a sheet pan. Lightly sprinkle fish with sea salt. Serve with tartar sauce and garnish with lemon wedges.