Fish caught from lake, stream or farm pond almost always suit our taste buds better than those bought at the market or prepared for us in a restaurant.
That is, if our catch is cared for properly from the water to the kitchen. Fish are extremely perishable, especially on these hot summer days.
The key to preserving fresh fish is to either keep them alive or on ice. You can keep them alive in a wire basket or on a stringer over the side of the boat, or spiked down at water’s edge if fishing from the bank. Even better if you have a boat equipped with an aerated live well.
Fish that die should be transferred quickly to a cooler half-filled with crushed ice. A dead fish left in water can spoil rapidly. Those without clear eyes, red gills or a fresh color should be tossed away.
If you’re going to throw a dead fish into the water, make sure its bladder is punctured. That way, the fish will sink to the bottom and soon be eaten by turtles or other fishes.
If filleting your fish, it’s OK to leave them whole on ice while you continue to fish. If you intend to scale them and prepare them whole or quartered, then dead fish should be field dressed – that is, as quickly as possible remove the gills, guts, and kidney, all of which spoil rapidly.
If you have a long drive home with the fish, keep fresh ice on them and keep the water drained out of the cooler. Dressed fish can spoil if allowed to remain in water from melting ice.
Bluegill and crappie are two of the best-eating fish there are. Fortunately, they’re also the species that cooperate best on hot summer days.
Bluegill and crappie too small to fillet should be prepared for the skillet whole. Scrape the scales off, cut down both sides of the dorsal fin and remove it, do the same with the anal fin. Remove the head, slit the belly and remove the entrails. Leave the tail on. Rinse quickly and dry with paper towels. Bluegill, crappie, sunfish, yellow perch, rock bass and trout are delicious when pan-fried whole, with the skin on.
Heat about one-quarter inch of vegetable oil in the bottom of an iron skillet until it bubbles a little. Dip the fish in your favorite batter and pan-fry over near high heat, with no cover on the skillet. Don’t crowd the fish together.
Frying time is usually five to 10 minutes. The skin should be crisp and brown and the flesh moist and flaky when probed with a fork.
Most of the tiny bones are removed by pan dressing, but small children should be warned – or helped – to watch for bones before eating.
HUSH PUPPY TIME
Several readers have called to request repeat of a hush puppy recipe published in an earlier column. Nothing goes better with fish than good hush puppies.
Here’s the recipe:
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (a hot red pepper, optional)
¼ chopped onion
1 can (8 ounces) cream style corn
2 tablespoons buttermilk
In deep-fat fryer or saucepan, heat vegetable oil (2-3 inches deep) to 375 degrees. Mix cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cayenne. Stir in remaining ingredients until well combined. Drop batter by tablespoons into hot oil. Fry a few at a time, turning over one or two times, until dark golden brown (4 to 5 minutes for each batch). Drain on paper towels. Keep warm in 175-degree oven. 4 to 6 servings.
WALLEYE NOODLE SOUP
If you’ve been fishing on Lake Erie and returned with some of its famous walleye, here’s an unusual recipe:
2 medium carrots
1 stalk celery
1 quart water
1 small onion, cut into wedges
¼ cup snipped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons instant chicken bouillon granules
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/8 teaspoon pepper
½ cup uncooked narrow egg noodles
1 cup flaked cooked walleye
Cut carrots into thin diagonal slices. Cut celery into thin slices. In 2-quart saucepan, combine water, carrots, celery, onion, parsley, bouillon granules, salt, thyme and pepper. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add noodles, return to boiling. Cook until noodles are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in fish. Simmer for 1 minute. 4-6 servings.