Thursday, June 8, 2017

I've wrestled with it all... but I'm back with a great Pike recipe!

I miss doing this blog. My thinking was: the more I blab about fishing in our area, the more people would end up at my favorite spots. Our area is growing to the point where getting a little solitude in the forest is becoming harder and harder. I've come to the realization that this overcrowding is going to occur whether I have a blog or not. I know that it is less bad here than in many places, so I suppose it is time to suck it up and keep on writing.

 We recently put some Northern Pike (Esox lucius) in the freezer. Pike is an amazingly delicious and underrated fish. It grows fast, it breeds well, and it will survive cutbacks, setbacks, funding shortages, and nutty presidents. Pike will likely be here long after we have moved on. Despite these benefits, there's an outright war against the poor fish in this state, with CPW even offering a $20 bounty them in certain places. While I do understand the value in keeping Pike from disrupting native fish, in most cases the war is waged on behalf of the non-native Rainbow Trout, which seems to need constant restocking to keep tourists happy. With boat ramps closing around the state due to a lack of funding, it seems completely insane to throw $20 bills at anglers who could never possibly rid a lake of pike. Some "anglers" feel that they're doing a lake a favor by catching Pike and simply leaving them on the banks. To me, that is despicable, especially with the fish being so delicious. With that all said, let's move on from the politics of Pike and on to the good part, the eating of Pike.

Pike are called trash fish by the uninformed largely because of the presence of a Y bone. These bones are easily removed by a variety of methods, and once they are, you're left with large, delicious fillets that cook up as fluffy, neutral, white meat that is a vehicle for fantastic sauces. Good eating pike are in the 30" (8-10 pound) range. The meat is firm and the fish has not picked up too much of the yucky stuff (mercury or other pollutants in the water) Older fish, especially apex predators can contain significant amounts of mercury. (Note, pregnant women or small children should consult a doctor before consuming Pike, or better yet, skip it.) There is no predator more apex than these toothy fish, so be aware.

The way I was taught to fillet a Pike goes something like this: start at the gill plate behind the head and cut down to the spine. Turn the knife to face toward the tail and work your way down the spine, cutting right through the rib and Y bones. Once you reach the tail, leave the fillet attached and then flip it over so you can easily remove the skin. Now that you have a skinless fillet, remove the rib bones by slicing behind them with your knife tilted slightly toward the bone. This will maximize your meat. Now the somewhat tricky part, you'll feel the Y bone protruding out at the top (like pin bones on trout) you will make a cut on the top side of the row of bones and gently work your way into that cut and follow the contour of the bones. This will have you cutting up into the top section of the fillet. Use care here because the bones end shortly before the top of the fillet and you don't want to separate the fillet. you'll then go just on the bottom side of the middle of the fillet and begin cutting in the same direction until you've separated an entire strip of meat and bone. I know we want to maximize meat, but chucking this will make your life easier. You now have a boneless Pike fillet. I can't imagine trying to do this after reading my paragraph of gibberish, so you'll probably want to watch a good video on the subject, or have a friend teach you. I was lucky enough to have an expert supervise my filleting on a pile of pike, and now I feel like I could do it with my eyes closed.

There are many great ways to cook Pike but I'm going to start with my favorite. I'm just covering the meat here, you can get creative with the rest of the meal. I used a bed of fresh greens from the garden, but you could just as soon use a bed of fresh bacon.

Durango Steamed Pike

  • 1 large (3/4 pound) Pike fillet cut into ~1" pieces
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Lemon

Marinate the pike pieces for 1 hour, refrigerated in a bowl with the sesame oil, rice vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper and pepper flakes. If your mixture needs more oil, use a splash of olive oil. Place pieces into an already-boiling steamer basket and cover. The will cook very rapidly, 2 to 3 minutes max. Overcooked, it will be chewy. Cooked right it would be succulent and divine! Serve on rice, on greens, on ham, it's your choice.

Start with this simple and delicious recipe and you'll be sold on Pike. Once you get the bug, you, like me, can try the somewhat complex Quenelles de Brochet! Good luck.

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