Monday, June 29, 2015

Pickled Pike Salad Sandwich

I don’t remember the first time I ate pickled herring. I didn’t have some great, holy shit moment, that changed the way I eat. Pickled herring has just always been a part of what I eat. It has always been a mainstay at every family gathering and special occasion. I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t have pickled fish. On really special occasions my Grandmother would give us creamed herring. Had you told the ten year old version of me that it was the same pickled herring with sour cream stirred in, I wouldn’t have believed it. There must have been some sort of very rare and exotic ingredient that made it that much better. Fortunately it really is that simple and my love for pickled fish has only grown over the years. 

There was a small part of me that didn’t want to learn how to make pickled fish. I think I was afraid that if I learned to make it myself it would lose some of that mystique. Like if I lifted that curtain I would somehow not enjoy it as much. Lucky for me I ignored that voice and started making my own pickled pike last year. It was the first batch of pickled fish I had ever made and it was incredible and left me craving more. So I set out to catch some northern pike and keep them in the freezer until I was able to make another batch. 

I now have nine pints of pickled pike in the fridge and as much as I like to eat pickled fish I found myself thinking of other ways I could use pickled fish. I have always just eaten it on a cracker or with a piece of rye toast. I did make a pickled herring cake once that although it sounds wrong was actually really frickin good. I looked through all my books and came across a recipe in the Williams Sonoma Hors d'oeuvres book for an apple, onion and herring salad that looked good enough to try.

I simplified the recipe a little and added some dill and serano chili but the concept is still the same. finely chopped red onion, some apples and pickled pike. What I ended up with was a mind blowing success and only reaffirms what I have believed all my life. Pickled fish is one of the best foods on earth and continues to make me feel like a kid getting a special treat at Grandmas house every time I eat it.
Pickled Pike Sala

 8 0z pickled pike, chopped
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
1 granny smith apple diced
1 tsp fresh dill chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayo
a few slices of Serano chili
salt and pepper to taste
sorrel leaves and chives to garnish
Swedish rye bread

Combine the first 7 ingredients and stir together, taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Then serve on some good rye bread with a garnish of chives and sorrel leaves and enjoy.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Northern Pike with Almost Burnt Cream

There are very few things I enjoy more than catching a nice big Northern Pike. They are one of the most aggressive fish we have in Minnesota and when you get into a big one it is a shitload of fun. Most people I have talked to agree and like to catch Northerns, but most people don't like to eat them. Northern have an interesting bone structure and unless you are really good with a knife or willing to learn there are a lot of bones. As far as texture and flavor go I put the northern right up there with Minnesota's beloved walleye. Still there are many people who won't eat them.

One of the techniques I have learned for filleting a pike is the five fillet method. If you do it right you will end up with 5 boneless fillets, I take it one step further and make six fillets. In the picture above you can see how I cut down the back bone and remove the top, or the back loins of the fish. down the middle of that piece is a row of bones that can be removed by making a v cut on either side of the bones. Then when you skin it you have a perfect boneless fillet. What I like to do is split that piece in half and then portion it into fish stick sized pieces. For whatever reason the kids like the fish stick but are less enthusiastic about the fillets.

Fishing is one of my great passions in life and fortunately for me so is cooking. I am always trying to find new ways to cook and eat the fish I catch. I watch a lot of cooking shows and get a lot of ideas of things to try from them. Recently I was watching season 3 of Mind of a Chef featuring Magnus Nilsson. In one of the episodes he cooks king crab in a very simple style with just a brush of butter and seared in a very hot, dry pan. At the same time he pours heavy cream into another dry hot pan and cooks it until it almost burns. The result is a very sweet reduced heavy cream that by itself could almost be part of a dessert. As I watched it over and over I began to wonder if it would be a technique that I could use on some of the fish I have.

Only because of the similarity in size and shape did I think about these pieces of Northern Pike I have from that back section. I decided to give them a try and cook them in a similar fashion to Chef Nilsson's Crab. I went back and watched the episode again just to make sure I didn't miss anything and sure enough I had missed one part. After the crab was taken out of the pan and right before plating he sprayed it with a mist of vinegar. The show wasn't specific about what type of vinegar so I used a chive vinegar that I had made.

Very simply take a 1 pint mason jar and fill it with chive blossoms. Then cover with white vinegar and let sit for a week. This vinegar is awesome on salads or fries or anything else you use vinegar for.

So, to put it together you will need 2 nonstick pans, 1/2 cup heavy cream, butter, salt, vinegar and of course the pike portions. Dry the fish and give it a small pinch of salt, then brush with butter and bring your pans to Medium high heat. Place the fish in the pan and begin to sear on all sides. This cooking process goes very quickly so it pays to have everything set up and ready to go. Start heating the second pan at the same time as the fish and get it nice and hot. Then just pour in the cream and let it go, don't touch it. The cream should reduce and begin to turn color this will go very quickly as well so keep and eye on it. This picture above is what mine looked like in the pan . I went just about 30 seconds to long. If the cream and oil separate you have gone to far.

When the fish is done remove it from the pan and set it on a cutting board spray it with a fine mist of vinegar and then move it to the plate and serve it with a dollop of cream. Each bite of fish should have a little cream on it. Now, I know you have heard people say that they have a method for cooking whatever fish so that it tastes just like lobster. I'm not going to say that. But, if you try this and don't think it is the best piece of northern pike you have ever eaten, I would seriously be shocked. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Smoked Sheepshead Spread

My last post was about catching and eating walleye, considered by many to be one of the best eating fish around. You could say this post would be the opposite of that. This is about sheepshead, or freshwater drum. A while back one of my readers recommended a book called Fishing For Buffalo all about fishing and eating rough fish. I really enjoyed the book, and the message I came away with was that we often overlook many different species of fish because they require a little more effort to clean or cook. For the last couple of years I have been experimenting with eating different types of fish that most just throw away. The sheepshead is one of those fish, most people won't even consider eating. I can't tell you how many sheepshead I have caught while fishing on the Mississippi river and they have all been thrown back.

This year I decided that I was going to keep a few and give them a shot.  On the same trip that my buddy Eric and I caught all those walleye's we also caught a number of sheepshead. So I kept two of them to play around with and see if I could make them edible. Now in all fairness I have heard from many people that sheepshead are very tasty and can be eaten in a variety of ways. I have also heard that they are disgusting and should be killed and left on the river bank.

When I got these two home I wasn't sure how I was going to cook them. I needed to taste them and find out what I was dealing with so I cut a small chunk of fish off one of the fillets and fried it in butter with a little salt and pepper. It wasn't the worst fish I have ever eaten but I wasn't overly impressed with it either. It had an overly fishy taste that reminded me of cleaning out the filter on my fish tank. I figured if I was going to find a way to eat them I might need a better method, I decided to smoke them.

I put together a salt and sugar cure and rubbed the fillets with the mixture. My intention was to leave them over night but I got distracted and they ended up staying in the salt mixture for almost 2 whole days. I smoked them any way and the end result was exactly what you might have imagined. Overly salty, not inedibly salty, but definitely salty. I had gotten a nice firm texture and good amount of smoke and had I pulled them out of the salt and smoked them when I should have I think they would have been delicious.

I didn't want to waste the fish so I decided to make a fish spread with the smoke fillets. I thought if I added enough non salted stuff to the fish spread I would end up with a decent spread. It was still a little salty but in the end it was still very enjoyable. Served with some saltine crackers it made a nice in between meal snack. I would really like to try it again only next time I am going to take them off the salt when I am supposed to.

Smoked Sheepshead Spread

1 lbs smoked fish
1/2 of a large onion, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons of mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon hot sauce (I prefer Crystal)
1/2 teaspoon of Old bay seasoning
a couple shakes of Worcestershire sauce
Black pepper to taste

Add all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until smooth. Let sit for about and hour in the fridge for the flavors to blend and then serve with crackers.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Walleye Wrapped in Ramps and Bacon

Last Fall I wrote about duck hunting with my friend Eric Passe. In that post I commented on how Eric knows a portion of the Mississippi river so well and has spent so much time hunting ducks there, that hunting with him is one of the great joys in life. The same goes for fishing, I have fished with Eric for a number of years and each time I go out with him I learn something new. Eric has such a perfect understanding of the river that almost every time I have been out there with him we have come home with a cooler full of fish.

Eric has caught so many fish on the river over his lifetime that he can accurately tell you what kind of fish he has hooked into and about how big that fish is, right after setting the hook. On more than one occasion I have seen him set the hook and get a very serious look on his face and say, "whoa, this is a good one". Usually shortly after that he brings in a 29 or 30 inch walleye. Its kind of freakish sometimes. The last time we were out fishing was no exception. We put together a pretty nice day of fishing keeping 8 walleyes between 19 and 25 inches and we released a 28, and a couple of 26's. The 28 incher was the biggest walleye I have ever caught and it was only fitting that I caught it with Eric. You could probably even say that I caught it because of Eric. What was really great was that I have seen Eric catch no less that five 28 inch plus sized walleyes and as excited as he gets to catch one he was almost more excited that I did.

On that same outing we also had something happen that neither of us could believe. We both saw something in the water swimming right on the surface so we motored over to see what it was and as we got closer we saw that it was a squirrel. When the squirrel saw us it was out in the middle of the Mississippi river and appeared to have been swimming for some time. It swam right over to the boat and jumped right in the boat with us. It struggled to climb up on the side of the boat and then just sat there panting. It was clear that he was done and didn't care what we did to him. We drove to the opposite bank and when we got to about 10 feet away he ran to the front of the boat and jump back into the river and swam the rest of the way. 

On my way home from that trip I had stopped and picked a few ramps and was tossing around the idea of trying some walleye wrapped in ramp leaves. That idea morphed into walleye wrapped in ramps and bacon. Very simply seasoned with salt and pepper, I cut the walleye into manageable pieces and then wrapped them in ramp leaves and bacon and then grilled them. These were perfect little bites of happiness. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Finally, Smelt

This post is a little behind schedule. I have been ridiculously busy at work and running all over the place when I am not at work and just haven't had any time to write.This post should have been up at the end of April. Even as I am writing this post I just finished packing to head out after work tonight for four days on Leech Lake fishing. So forgive me for the tardiness and try to imagine it is the end of April as you read this. 

I have been trying to catch smelt on and off for about 10 years now with no success. In fact my most successful smelting excursion was a number of years ago and netted me 7 smelt, It was pathetic. My sister-in-law Thia, has family that lives in Duluth, MN and they have talked about smelting and having a good amount of success so I put a bug in Thia's ear to let her family know that if they would be willing to take me out I would be very interested. At the end of April I got a call from Thia, her step dad had been out and if I was available he would be willing to take me out. I hopped in the car on my next day off and headed up to Duluth in hopes of finally getting some smelt. 

I arrived at Tim and Jackie's about 6 in the evening and we mapped out our strategy for netting some smelt. The first thing we needed to do was head out to the bar and eat pizza and drink beer and shots until it was time to go to the spot where we were going to net smelt. We got to our designated smelting area around 1030 at night and the picture above is an accurate portrayal of how I felt when we got there. 

We were going to be using a 28 foot seine net to try and catch the smelt and our first few passes into the lake resulted in nothing. We tried that spot a few more times with the same result so we decided to move. The next spot brought more of the same and then on our third or fourth pass we finally got some smelt. there were 9 or 10 smelt in the net and in one pass I had broken my personal best. We got a little excited by our success and headed out with the net again adding a couple more smelt. Then the nets went dry and there was nothing. I don't know what changed but we were pulling empty nets again. We took a break and had a much needed beer and a shot and then Tim suggested we try walking out without turning our head lamps on. That next pass was amazing, we netted several dozen smelt. It seemed we had figured out what we were doing wrong and over the next hour we manages to fill a five gallon bucket. That might not seem like much but it was more than I had ever seen and was the perfect amount for me.

Now, a five gallon bucket doesn't seem like much but trust me about 2 hours into cleaning them all you start to wonder why you kept that many. You don't have to clean them and there are some that fry them whole but I am not one of those people. I cut the heads and guts out of all those smelt and ended up with 3 one gallon freezer bags full of smelt. 

When I fry smelt I don't like to over batter them but I want them to have a crisp outer shell. When I made one of Hank Shaw's recipes for General Tso's Pheasant I really like the way the marinade left the pheasant with a light crisp exterior without being overly breaded. So i adapted it to my smelt batter. It leaves the smelt crisp on the outside tender on the inside and perfectly cooked. 

Fried Smelt with a Sriracha Lime dipping sauce

1 lbs smelt
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce

Mix the yolks, corn starch and sauces in a bowl with a whisk and then add the smelt, toss to coat and allow to sit for at 30 minutes. Right before you fry your smelt stir them around the batter one more time and then fry them in canola oil at 375 for about 4-5 minutes. This should be enough time to get a nice crisp layer on the outside and to soften the bones inside. I would sample one before adding any salt as the soy and fish sauce both a have a good amount of salt in them. Serve with a Sriracha lime dipping sauce.

For the Dipping sauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise
juice and zest of one lime
one clove of garlic minced
1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika
2 tablespoons of Sriracha

Combine all the ingredients and let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes before using.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Stinging Nettle Gnocchi

Growing up I spent a lot of my summer's at my Grandparents cabins on Leech Lake. It was there that I fell in love with the outdoors. Fishing, swimming, waterskiing, and running around in the woods.  During the summer months up at the cabin we would always pick buckets full of raspberries and blackberries and would eat fresh fish that I would catch right out of the lake. It really was one of the best times of my life and now that I am 40 years old I would give almost anything to go back to those days. I only have fond memories of those times at the cabin and playing with the neighbors. But if I had to pick one thing I didn't like, it would be al the damned nettles.

There were stinging nettles everywhere up there. In the woods, down by lake pretty much everywhere I was playing there were nettles. And I got into them all the time. My legs would burn like I'd set myself on fire. If you would have asked a ten year old version of me if he wanted to eat some nettles he probably would have run away from you screaming. Little did I know that when picked young and cooked right they are an amazing addition to a meal.

I first heard of people eating stinging nettles when I started watching the River Cottage series with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstahl. I couldn't believe they were eating nettles, It seemed impossible that something that tormented my childhood could be edible. The first time I tried nettles I made a nettle soup with smoked fish. It was decent but it wasn't enough to send me out picking nettles and making more soup. After that I made a ramp and nettle Chimichurri and that was the turning point for me. I really started to enjoy nettles. After that I made a nettle beer and I think that would have been a lot more enjoyable if I had known anything about how to bottle homemade beer. I ended up with a lot of yeast in the bottles and that wasn't much fun, but it tasted pretty good after you poured it through a filter. Ever since then I have been aboard the nettle train and every spring I can't wait to get out and find those young tender nettle tops and try something new with them.

This year I bought a new book about making pasta called, Pasta by hand by Jenn Louis. It is an amazing book and ever since reading it I have become obsessed with making my own pasta. One of the recipes in the book is for a nettle gnocchi and coincidentally right after I bought it he first nettles of the year were starting to come up. I took my son out to the woods and we pick a bag full of nettles and then cam home and made a batch of the gnocchi. I know the picture above is a little out of focus but I was trying to snap a photo while I was making the pasta. Charlie took each dumpling I cut and rolled on a gnocchi board, he was very proud of all his work but wasn't thrilled enough to eat them. He wanted PBJ instead.  My wife and daughter on the other hand loved them and between the three of us we ate the entire batch.

I followed the recipe in the book exactly and I was amazed at how great these gnocchi were. After cooking them I just tossed them in butter and shaved some parmesan on them and they were perfect. Here is the recipe from the book the only addition I made was adding some grated nutmeg. I am putting all the measurements in grams so you can be as precise as possible.

Stinging Nettle Gnocchi 

2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/2 cup of water
140 grams of nettles, stems removed
2 eggs plus one additional yolk
300 grams of potatoes boiled, peeled and riced
180 grams of all purpose flour, plus more for dusting the board
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1. wilt the nettle with the 2 tablespoons of nettles and the 1/2 cup of water over medium heat for 5-6 minutes. then let stand in a collander to drain until cooled. 

2. Place the nettles and the eggs and additional yolk in a blender or food processor and blend until you have a green paste.

3. when the potatoes are cooled add them to the green paste and add the flour, nutmeg and salt. Mix together with your hands until all the flour is incorporated. Add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough holds together but is not sticky.

4. Dust your work surface with four and then cut a small handful of dough off and roll it out into a log about a half inch in diameter. Then cut the gnocchi into bite sized pieces and set aside on a well floured baking sheet. 

5. Bring a pot of water to a boil and salt the water liberally. Working in batches cook the gnocchi for 3-4 minute. You will know when they are done when they are all floating on top of the water.

6. Remove the gnocchi from the water and drain, then melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan and toss the gnocchi in the butter. I like to cook them just a little long in the butter so some of the gnocchi develop a nice brown crust on one side. Serve with grated paregganio-reggiano and enjoy.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Cazzallitti with Elk Ragu

There is something extremely satisfying about making your own pasta. I find it calming and relaxing. in the past I have made  my own ravioli with my hand crank pasta roller. That has been the extent of my pasta making and I have loved it. I have toyed around with the idea of buying one of those fancy pasta machines that allows you to make all the different shapes of pasta but in the end it never really seems worth it. I was kind of stuck making papperadelle and ravioli because I could do them on my hand cranked machine. Then I read Hank Shaw's post about great pasta books. One of the books was a book by Jenn Louis called Pasta by Hand. In this book it gives you the recipes and techniques for making a couple dozen different types of pasta with nothing more than you bare hands, I was sold.

I immediately ordered the book and as soon as it came I started making pasta. The very first recipe I picked out was for this Cazzallitti with elk ragu. In the book she offers up a few different options for sauces to serve with each type of pasta. The Cazzallitti was recommended with a lamb ragu. I just happened to have this elk shank in my freezer and decided to use it instead. The recipes from the book are amazingly simple and don't require any special equipment. I have had my book for about 3 weeks now and my family has been eating fresh pasta about twice a week. The Stinging Nettle Gnocchi  and the beet gnocchi with Gorgonzola cream sauce were both big hits.

I have been amazed at how quickly I can knock out a batch of gnocchi. My 3 year old son loves to help roll out the gnocchi, I usually cut out all the pieces and he rolls them down a gnocchi board to give them their little lines. I wouldn't usually write an entire post about someone else's recipes and a book but I really think this one is special. If you love pasta it is a must have book.