by Gretchen Steele
Gar – that ugly prehistoric dinosaur of a fish – simply do not get the respect they deserve. Not only do they offer one heck of fight on rod and reel, they are a bowfishing staple fish. Sadly, their reputation as a junk trash fish combined with their armor–like hide keeps many from enjoying this abundant and great tasting fish.
I hate the term “trash fish” and the term “rough fish” is almost as bad, but I am still having a hard time getting my head wrapped around the oh-so- politically correct “underutilized native fish”. BUT The truth is that gar are a terribly under utilized native fish in many areas.
I’ve become somewhat of a gar ambassador, and when I see fellow anglers curse, kill and toss these exceptionally good eat fish aside – I just can’t stop my pushy self from interfereing and going so far as to whip out my cleaning tools and show them on the spot that cleaning and using a gar is far more easy than myth and legend would have one believe.
Cleaning a gar may seem like a daunting task, and there are multitudes of myths about the cleaning of gar and the meat – so here’s a quick how to for rendering that scary looking toothy monster ready for the table.
lots of good meat on this 8lb 14 oz gar that was arrowed by my bowfishing partner in crime Amy Young of Henshaw, KY
First gather the few extra tools you will need:
1.Sharp sturdy skinning type knife
3.Thin flexible fillet knife
4. Gloves for those who wish to avoid the small cuts that sometimes result from sharp gar scales.
Place the gar on you cleaning surface and begin by making a horizontal cut directly behind the head. Given the bone like quality of gar scales, insert your knife tip between the scale lines in order to make the cut much easier.
Once the horizontal cut is made, grab you tin snips and insert them just below the hide and begin making the long vertical cut down the center of the gar’s back.
When your tin snips reach the dorsal fin, make a second horizontal cut downwards along the scale line. Using a sharp and flexible fillet knife separate the “armor” from the sweet white tenderloin meat.
Now you are ready to begin the filleting portion of the cleaning.
Insert the tip of your fillet knife between the meat and the hide and begin to slowly slice the meat away from the hide on each side.
Once you have the hide free of the “loins” and meaty part of the fish, insert the fillet knife along the backbone of the fish, and simply slice the meat away from the ribs. Be aware that a gar’s rib cage is very long and extends nearly all the way to the tail.
The top loins are the good eating part of the gar. The “belly meat” is next to nothing, and full of bones, so all you are after are the two large loins.
There you have it – now that wasn’t that difficult was it? Since gar can become so very large the amount of good meat even from a single fish makes them well worth keeping and cleaning!
A NOTE OF CAUTION – NEVER EVER CONSUME THE EGGS FROM A GAR – THEY ARE EXTREMELY TOXIC TO ALL MAMMALS – INCLUDING HUMANS! Always dispose of the eggs in manner that no pets, birds, or people can get into them.
We prepare gar in a number of ways – but the all-time favorite at our house is “Poor Man’s Lobster”.
1.Cut the gar meat into bite sized chunks
2.Prepare a pot of crab boil, just as you would if you were going to boil crawfish, shrimp etc. Drop the chunks into the boil
3.Boil five minutes, remove from heat and allow to sit for an additional five minutes before removing the fish chunks.
4.Serve with melted butter, lemon juice or chill for later use.
5.You can substitute the gar cooked this way for most any recipe that calls for cooked crab meat or lobster.