Gently cook fish and land compliments

August 06, 2009|By LYNNE ROSSETTO KASPER / Scripps Howard News Service

Dear Lynne: My husband and sons are avid fishermen and bring home their limits of walleye, northern pike, sunfish and crappies. I love frying them in seasoned flour or deep-frying them in a beer batter, but would really like more options. I find plenty of recipes for fish, but they almost always designate saltwater fish or salmon. Do you have any more ideas about how to prepare our good freshwater fish? -- The Fisherman's Wife in Lino Lakes, Minn.

Dear Fisherman's Wife: Relax, because nearly any recipe you like for saltwater fish can be done with freshwater ones.

Since your fish is fresh out of the water, start experimenting with a recipe that's all about the subtle flavors of walleye and northern, and even the sunfish and crappies. You can play around with seasonings, but the essential technique does not change: Slow cook your fish over low heat in a covered skillet in some good-tasting butter or olive oil. The fish remains moist, its flavors clear and fresh. With a squeeze of lemon juice, the pan juices become a sauce.



Serves 4 and halves or doubles easily.

This cooking technique succeeds with any small whole fish or fillet. With delicately flavored fish such as northern pike and walleye, keep improvised seasonings gentle. With fuller-flavored fish such as sunfish and trout, flavors could be bolder.

2 to 2-1/2 pounds of whole fish, or 1-1/2 pounds of fillets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 to 4 tablespoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
5 to 6 fresh basil leaves, torn (optional)
1 lemon, quartered

Wash fish and pat it dry. Season it on all sides with salt and pepper. Set a 12-inch nonstick saute or frying pan over medium heat. Add the butter and melt it. Do not let it burn.

Slip the fish into the pan, keeping pieces from touching. Add the garlic and onion. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium low and cook the fish 5 minutes. Uncover the pan, use two nonstick spatulas to gently turn the pieces and re-cover the pan. Cook another 2 minutes, or until the fish is firm when pressed or it reaches 160 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer inserted in its center.

Gently transfer the fish to a serving platter. Now raise the heat to medium high; stir the lemon zest and basil leaves (if using) into the pan juices. Swirl them around a minute or so until they are fragrant. Drizzle the pan sauce over the fish and serve hot with the lemon wedges. Serve with a big salad, cornbread and cold beer.

Another approach is a lakeside stew that my associate, Judy Budreau, does with her family. She layers fish (usually skinned and boned) on the bottom of a pot that can go over hot coals, sprinkling the fish with chopped parsley, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, sliced onion, generous garlic and some salt and black pepper.

She covers the fish with white wine or fish broth (I've cheated and used chicken broth with good results), simmering the mixture until the fish is cooked through (about 5 to 10 minutes). She transfers the fish to soup bowls, ladles the liquid over it and tops each serving with a pat of butter.

The kids toast bread over the fire and rub it with garlic. Together, the stew and the garlic bread are pretty sensational. Obviously, the same recipe could be done with saltwater fish.

Dear Lynne: Our apartments share a patio, so we all party together on weekends. Our heat gets so bad we're considering giving up alcohol for a while. It's threatening my good ol' boy status, but there it is. Can you help us out? -- Hot As Hades in Alabama

Dear Hot as Hades: I realize this is only a temporary situation, but these solutions could take you through the entire summer. We've used these ideas for several years now and they still get kudos. Adjust the formulas to your taste.

o Nectarine-Raspberry Tea with Fresh Basil: Puree ripe, sweet nectarines and raspberries. Strain into a pitcher, add brewed and cooled black tea, several torn basil leaves and sugar to taste. Serve with lime wedges.

o Black Pepper Lemonade with Watermelon: Black pepper gives lemonade a special sparkle. Make a sugar syrup of 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, bruised. Simmer until the syrup is clear. Cool it and strain. Pour this into a big pitcher, adding 1/2 to 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice and water to taste. Just before serving, add ice and small pieces of watermelon.

o Pineapple-Mango Chili Cup: Blend unsweetened pineapple and mango juices with fresh lemon to taste. Add hot chili pepper flakes until there is a little zing. Pour into a pitcher along with bubbly mineral water. Chill and serve over ice, garnished with skewers of pineapple and mango chunks.

(Lynne Rossetto Kasper hosts "The Splendid Table," American Public Media's weekly national show for people who love eat. She's the co-author of "The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper: Recipes, Stories and Opinions." Ask questions and find Lynne, recipes and station listings at

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