By Dave “Pops” Masch
Midwinter and no fish, or at least damn few to catch from the sea in my neighborhood. I would like to have some truly fresh fish; fried yellow perch, the fish of my boyhood in Michigan, come to mind. I loved them!
Coincidentally, a couple of days after my bout of culinary nostalgia, my neighbor Win Maclane, a native of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, suggested that when things freeze up I should go ice-fishing with him. This might get me some yellow perch. He said it would, but that means ice fishing, a far less attractive activity than it was when I was a boy or in my early adulthood when I was still drinking hard liquor. I have since been to the Florida Keys in pursuit of permit and tarpon, the Bahamas to hunt the bonefish, and Tobago for wahoo, mahi-mahi and tuna. I have pursued salmon in Quebec and Ireland, and the striped bass on the Monomoy Flats in summer — all magnificent fishing experiences!
I have not caught all of the species I have sought, but I intend to. I have, however, cooked and eaten all of them, with the exception of the tarpon, which I do not intend to eat. Not one of them was better tasting or more delicious than the yellow perch of my youth in Michigan, so I guess I will go ice-fishing with my neighbor. I asked him if he used the perch eyes for bait.
“Of course,” he said. “They are the best perch bait of all.”
We shared this opinion in Michigan, so I guess he knows what he is doing. We will probably get perch and this is how I will cook them.
PAN-FRIED YELLOW PERCH
Four 8-inch perch per person (scaled and gutted)
Olive oil, butter or peanut oil for frying
Seasoned coating (see below)
Make a seasoned coating using one part flour to a half part fine cornmeal, for example: 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup cornmeal, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper (1 teaspoon Creole seasoning or 1 teaspoon adobo optional).
In a skillet big enough to hold your fish, heat oil, butter and oil, or plain butter to a medium cooking temperature. Dip your fish in milk, then in seasoned flour, and fry gently until richly browned on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Drain on brown paper bags or paper towels. Keep them warm in the oven until all the fish are cooked.
In Michigan we ate these with German potato salad and wilted dandelion greens.
One of my heroes, Al McClane, wrote in his Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery that “Few mortals would deny that a yellow perch taken from a clear, cold pond is a supreme taste experience.”
After reading that, I must go ice-fishing with my neighbor.
If you cannot get any perch, you could use the same recipe with smelt from the supermarket and not be disappointed. Smelt, along with farm-raised catfish and salmon, are three fish that are usually good from supermarket cases. I have strong opinions about some of the fish sold by large markets. My opinions are as strong as some of their fish.
For now, do up some smelt like this:
FRIED SMELT COCKTAIL (for 4)
1 lb. medium or small smelt
1 cup cornstarch
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
Mix the cornstarch with the salt and pepper, and place in a bag. Shake up the smelt with the seasoned cornstarch until well coated.
Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a skillet until quite hot, about 350 degrees. Fry the smelt in the hot oil, turning once, until crisp. They will not, and should not, brown much at all. Drain on paper towels or brown bag paper and keep warm in a 200-degree oven until all the smelt are cooked. Serve with cocktail sauce. These are outstanding!
Cooking The Catch 1 & 2 Combo
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