Open Season: Dilly of a pickle - pike, that is
Snot rockets, slough sharks, slimers.
Whatever you call them, the reaction while fishing is the same: "Dangit, another northern."
Granted, not all fishermen cringe at the sight of Esox lucius, but when the targeted species is something else, the toothy carnivores can be somewhat of a nuisance.
I've found, however, that people's negative perception of Northern pike usually stems from one, critical aspect: they don't know what to do with them. Sport fishermen content with catch-and-release notwithstanding, those of us looking for a meal normally don't look too keenly upon the pike, especially compared with their white, flaky counterparts such as walleyes or crappies.
But in the hands of an expert - or even me - a pike can become perfectly palatable. Here's how.
From pike to pan
If you're goal from a fishing excursion is to get something for supper, don't snub your nose at a northern. True, the biological garbage disposals do have a perplexing puzzle of bones that can play havoc on esophagi, but the removal of said bones is actually rather simple. And, if you just so happen to go on a week-long Boundary Water Canoe Area trip without packing enough food (don't ask me how I know this), the easy-to-catch pike can be a much-appreciated belly filler.
I'll assume readers already know how to fillet a fish (i.e. down the spine, behind the gills, over the rib cage). Regardless of the methodology, the means are the same. Where my de-boning tip comes in is after you've taken the meat slabs off the carcass.
At this point, I skin the fillets. When you have two, long fillets of meat, now the work starts.
Begin by running your hand down the length of the fillet. Feel that? Near the "fat" part of the fish (or what was closest to the head) will stick out the prickly ends of the "y" bones. These bones are shaped as their name suggests, and run about three-fourths of the way down the length of the fish.
Starting at the head end of the fillet, make a lateral incision alongside the bones and work toward the tail. Do this, keeping close to the bones, which curl away toward the back. Upon completion, make another lateral incision on the other side of the bones. When you're finished, you should have three hunks of meat, two of which are completely boneless.
The middle section of meat is rather small, and because it is full of all the Y bones, can be discarded. From this point, the top and bottom fillet pieces can be cooked up in any manner you so chose, without fear of choking on a bone.
However, there is one other way of processing pike that requires a bit less skill with the knife, but is a tad more time consuming.
Pickling is the act of preserving food in liquid, usually with salt, vinegar and a myriad of spices.
That being said, pickling pike can be some of the tastiest, and most worthwhile ways to use up your fish. And the best part: no de-boning.
What follows is a recipe I use to pickle pike.
1 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup white sugar
3 bay leaves
4 whole cloves
1/2 tsp. whole allspice
1 tsp. whole mustard seed
1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1/2 cup sweet white wine
1 cup pickling salt
2 qt. cold water
1 lb. skinless pike, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 1/2 - 2 cups additional white vinegar
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
Day 1: Combine 1 cup vinegar, sugar, bay leaves, cloves, allspice, mustard seed and peppercorns in a saucepan. Bring ingredients to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer for 5 minutes, than cool. Add wine. Pour into a plastic or glass container, and let pickling syrup sit at room temperature for four days.
In the meantime, mix pickling salt with cold water and stir thoroughly to dissolve. Pour over cutup skinless fish and refrigerate 48 hours in air-tight container (a large glass mason jar with clip-lock lid works perfectly).
Day 3: Rinse fish with cold water and cover fish chunks with vinegar. Refrigerate for 24 hours.
Day 4: Drain fish and discard vinegar. Loosely layer fish, onion and lemon in plastic or glass containers (such as canning jars). Completely cover with pickling syrup and cover tightly. Refrigerate for a minimum of five days, stirring once or twice during that time.
Day 9 and beyond: Pickling is done. The flesh should be firm and white, and any bones should be dissolved. If not, leave in refrigerator and check daily until the pike is finished.
Pickled pike may be stored covered with the pickling syrup in a closed container in refrigerator for up to five weeks - if it even last that long!