Pickled Northern Pike an Adventure Long Overdue

It is no secret that I love Northern Pike, they are one of my favorite fish to catch and I really enjoy eating them also. Many people don't like to eat them because of all the oddly shaped bones that are a pain in the ass to fillet around, but there are methods for dealing with that. I am also a huge fan of pickled fish so when I went to the freezer and saw that 5 pound bag of pike fillets it dawned on me that I have never made pickled fish at home. I have only eaten pickled fish that was purchased at a store. I had never even tried anybody's home made pickled fish. That needed to change.

For as long as I can remember my family has always included pickled herring in our holiday meals. There is some debate as to which is better, the plain herring or the creamed herring, which is just pickled herring mixed with sour cream, but it is always part of our Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings. Morey's fish shop in Baxter, MN has 7 or 8 different kinds of pickled herring for sale and anyone who has ever been to Ikea can't help but notice the 10-12 different varieties they offer. So why, if I love pickled fish so much haven't I made my own? The answer is simple, I have been lazy.

I don't get out fishing as much as I should and the fish I do catch usually ends up as part of a fish fry or in some other recipe that I want to try. I could use up some of the walleye and pan fish in the freezer but that seems like a waste to me. I also don't usually have large amounts of Northern pike in the freezer. I was lucky this year that my buddy Eric down in Wabasha had this extra bag of pike fillets and gave them to me. Pike are the preferred fish for pickling because of all those little bones that are in the meat. The pickling process dissolves the bones so you don't even notice them. It is like the pickling process was designed specifically for pike.

I have never made pickled fish of any type so I had to do a little research before I got started. I read every recipe I had and many of them looked good but none of them had everything I wanted. One recipe would call for allspice, cloves and coriander but then there was no dill. Another had dill and onions but no hot peppers. In the end I put together a couple of recipes and added a few extra things. Normally I wouldn't have a problem improvising but with pickled fish and it being my first time making it I wanted to follow a recipe as closely as possible. pickled fish is after all, raw.

Because the fish is technically raw I am always a little sceptical. Raw freshwater fish carry parasites and that isn't something I want to expose myself or my family to. There are a couple of things that can be done to help ensure the safety of your fish. First, you have to inspect it your fish, if you can visibly see black spots or worse yet, worms, you probably don't want to use that fish. Second, you want to freeze your fish. Freezing your fish down below 0 degrees Fahrenheit for several days will help kill any small unseen parasites that might be lurking. After that your fish should be safe to use. The pickling process also helps, the fish is soaked in a salt water brine for 48 hours and then packed in vinegar after that.

This batch of pickled northern turned out great, the meat is nice and firm and the pickling brine tasted amazing. It has all the elements that I really enjoy in pickled fish. It is sweet and has just a touch of spice from the red chili's, the dill and lemon are faint but noticeable. It was very easy and not as time consuming as I imagined it would be. I used 3 pounds of fillets and ended up with 9 pint jars of pickled pike. It says that it will last for about 4 weeks but I am going to give some of it out in gift baskets so I can't imagine I will need to worry about that. Now all I have to do is get out on the ice and catch a bunch of northern. I think its about time I tried my hand at spear fishing.

Here is my Pickled Pike recipe it is basically a combination of Amy Thielens Recipe from The New Midwestern Table and Camilla Plum's from The Scandinavian Kitchen

Pickled Pike 

1 1/2 cups kosher salt
1 gallon water

3 lbs pike fillets cut into pieces as big or small as you would like
7.5 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup Aquavit
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
2 tablespoons allspice berries
3 tablespoons black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
12 juniper berries
1 tablespoon coriander
10 cloves
1 tsp pickling salt

fresh dill
sliced shallots
lemon slices 
Serrano chilies

1. mix together the kosher salt and water and make a salt water brine, put the fish pieces into the brine and refrigerate for 48 hours.

2. After the fish has brined for 48 hours drain the fish but do not rinse it, mix together all the ingredients from the white vinegar to the pickling salt and bring to a boil. let the pickling liquid cool to room temperature.

3. In your sterilized pint or quart jars layer the fish pieces with the dill, shallots, lemon and chillies. How mush is up to you. I like a lot of dill and shallots and a couple thin slices of lemon per pint. I didn't want the fish to be spicy but I did want a little flavor from the chilies so I only put 3-4 slices of chili per pint. 

4. Don't over fill the jars as you need to pour the pickling liquid in after they are filled with fish. pour the room temperature liquid over the fish and place the lids on. refrigerate for 2-3 days before eating. this will last for up to a month in you fridge. 

Makes 9 pints