“All men are equal before fish” – Herbert Hoover

Guess we’re having fish for dinner…

Cryptozoological aficionados are primarily concerned with capturing an elusive, semi-mythical beast in the flesh.  This is short-sighted.  Once you have snared your quarry, the more important question is how you cook it.

Consider the infamous coelacanth.  The “living fossil” that is the coelacanth has been around for roughly 420 million years, and was thought to have gone extinct about 66 million years ago, until it was rediscovered (or rather recognized by the scientific set as still lurking about in the ocean depths) when it started turning up in fishing nets while some guy in a lab coat was around off the coast of South Africa in 1938. Between about 1938-1975 at least 84 of these fish were caught and recorded off south and east Africa, with an Indonesian variety appearing in the 1990’s.  Coelacanths are what they call nocturnal piscivorous drift-hunters.  That is, they sleep in underwater caves all day, and aimlessly drift about at night, eating whatever fish stumble into their path.  When you’ve been around for 400 million years, you learn the art of low-effort.

And while science only recognized that these critters were not actually extinct as of 1938, it seems fisherman local to their habitats were abundantly familiar with them.  So familiar, in fact, that they knew how to make a meal out of them. Pre-eminent cryptozoologist Ivan Sanderson, in reference to ichthyologist James Smith’s 1938 coelacanth-hunting in South Africa, once observed, “There were indications that the native population in this part of the world had fished for and eaten these ‘living fossils’ for several generations. Although not a common item in native diets, there is no doubt that, while Professor Smith dreamed of finding a second coelacanth, a dozen or more had probably been served and eaten” (Sanderson, 1961, p15).  Fisherman off the Comoro Islands, Madagascar, and Mozambique colloquially referred to coelacanth as gombessa (“worthless”) due to the fact that it secreted gallons of oily mucous, and would often ruin the rest of the catch, which makes it even more puzzling that it’s 1938 rediscovery happened when it was found in a pile of other fish headed for the market.

So now that you have a coelacanth awaiting preparation, what do you do with it?  First you have a few problems.  It smells bad and its mucous covered.  Hagfish, a more commonly eaten relative, sometimes called “the world’s scariest food” (that it is generally assumed would taste more or less like coelacanth – they live at the same depths and secrete similar mucous) has a similar problem.  Hagfish slime is a good binding solution, can be made into an ultra-strong fiber, and can be used as an egg-white substitute.  So obviously it is skinned alive before being thrown on the grill.  Presumably we know this because hagfish are far more common than coelacanths.  Your second problem is that coelacanth flesh is high in difficultly digestible oil, urea, and wax esters, so even if a culinary genius prepares your meal for you, the odds are good you will suffer rather unpleasant bouts of intestinal distress and reportedly, horrific diarrhea.

First of course, the coelacanth would have to be descaled and the mucous removed.  Traditionally, across their habitats, the coelacanth have been heavily salted to make them at least marginally palatable.  But perhaps you want to up your game.  Apparently, you want to grill your coelacanth with onion and garlic, dice it, and then season with a red pepper sauce.  An alternative is to broil it in sesame oil (and in one Korean recipe for hagfish, it is understandably recommended that you serve it with a shot of liquor).

Do you want to know if a particular cryptid actually exists?  Easy.  Ask a local if they have a recipe. Which leads me to wonder.  Bigfoot. Béchamel or Bourguignonne?


Sanderson, Ivan Terence, 1911-1973. Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life: The Story of Sub-humans On Five Continents From the Early Ice Age Until Today. [1st ed.]. Philadelphia: Chilton Co., Book Division, 1961.