Are grunion good to eat? Is it legal to catch grunion? Can you eat grunion? We get these questions a lot during the grunion run season! All throughout the beaches of Southern California, thousands of people get the chance to witness these strange little creatures.
Read on as we’ll tackle everything you need know about how to catch grunion, how to cook grunion and the best grunion recipe!
What Are Grunion?
Grunion are species of fish that can be found along Southern California’s beaches and in northern Baja, California. They’re relatively well-known for their unique and fascinating spawning behavior.
During the spawning season, they come out and lay millions of eggs on the beaches of California. On specific nights just right after the high tide, sections of the beaches are covered with grunion dancing on the sand. These ‘grunion runs’ attract thousands of people from across the globe lining the beaches to witness them.
Throughout the incubation period, grunion eggs remain buried on California’s sandy beaches. They will come out after approximately two weeks. Larvae hatch as the eggs get washed out by the high tide and huge waves before full and new moons. A grunion fish will spawn after 1 year of being born and it has an average lifespan of 4 years. During the spawning season, grunion are very vulnerable.
Fortunately, they’re protected by local regulations. It’s illegal to take grunion during the spawning season, which takes place starting April to June. For the rest of the year, no gear is allowed to be used in collecting or catching grunion.
This means if you want to catch grunion and eat it, you would have to use your bare hands. An appropriate fishing license would also be required, regardless of whether or not you’re a resident of California.
How to Catch Grunion Fish
As mentioned earlier, you can only catch grunion during specific periods. The prime mating period of the fish is off-limits to fishing while grunion are onshore.
In addition, while there’s no bag limit set officially by the local authorities, it’s illegal to waste grunion that are caught. It’s also forbidden to set up a trap or dig holes in the beach to catch grunion.
The Best Grunion Recipes
So, are grunion good to eat? Yes, they can be! Before you find out for yourself the answer by cooking the fish, make sure that you have some that are freshly caught.
You should also make sure that you’ve cleaned each grunion, and removed the heads, innards, and tails. Removal of the bones will entirely be up to your personal preference.
This is what we recommend you try for a true So-Cal seafood dish. To whip up grunion fish tacos, make grunion filets and dress the fish lightly in oil.
Set the grunion filets in an oven-safe dish, season them by making a blend of chili powder, cumin, and lime juice, then bake for 10-15 minutes at 300ºF.
Like most So-Cal fish tacos, a grunion taco may be topped with other ingredients, depending on your preferences. This can be onion, cilantro, red cabbage, and ripe avocados.
This is the most traditional way of preparing grunion. If you grill grunion, you’ll be able to enjoy the meat quickly. The grilling process of grunion is very simple, but it will already enhance the natural flavor of the fish. Grilling can be in foil packets or done directly on an open flame.
If you’ll be grilling on an open flame, make sure you generously dress the fish with the oil of your choice so it won’t stick on the grilling pan. Put the grunion over the fire and cook up to two minutes for each side.
You’ll know it’s done when its meat is browned or caramelized. Then, squeeze some lemon juice onto the fish. Serve with a cold beverage and some sides. You’ll love the rich, smoky flavor of grilled grunion which is perfect for summer.
If you want to grill in foil packets instead of directly on the grill, coat the grunion in oil first before placing them on your foil. Then, add the ingredients you like. Our go-to are thyme, lemon wedges, bell peppers, and onion. Fold the packet with the seams facing up.
This is important as you wouldn’t want the juices to drip. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. What we love about using a foil packet is it preserves the moisture of the fish.
Grunion Fish Sauce
If you have more grunion fish to spare, we suggest you try enjoying the fish’s flavor even months after the season’s over by making a grunion fish sauce. It’s actually very easy to make the sauce; however, you should be warned that it will take a long time to complete.
Cut the fish into very small pieces then mash them in a jar. Your sauce will only be made with grunion and seasonings of your choice such as bay leaves, garlic, and lemon.
Add two tablespoons of pickle brine or whey and three tablespoons of salt. Fill the jar with water then mix. Take note: you can only use it after three months. Make sure you open the jar once every couple of days as you want to relieve the built-up pressure from the fermentation process.
So, there you have it! A lot of people would stand by us when we say grunion are absolutely a treat! They’re not too fishy and they’re versatile.
You can even add them to various other seafood dishes. Just season according to your taste and we’re sure you’ll love grunion as much as we did.