I have caught a lot of fish in my life, it would be interesting to have kept a running total to this point just to see how many I have caught. I love fishing, it is one of my favorite activities and now that I have children who are starting to get to fishing age it is even more entertaining than it ever has been. The pure joy on my daughters face every time she catches another sun fish is magical. I can hardly wait until she catches something bigger and to see her excitement. I have also tried to instill in my children a love for eating the fish we catch. I have eaten a lot of fish.
I am almost embarrassed to admit that 99% of the fish I have caught have been breaded or battered and fried. Only in the last couple of years have I really broadened my horizon and tried other ways of cooking the fish I catch. The reason for this is simple, I lacked the skill and knowledge to prepare fish any other way. I also grew up in a family that only fried all the fish we caught.
A few years back I started going into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area with my brother and while we were there I realized that if I wanted to eat something other than fried fish I would need to learn how to prepare fish in other ways and then adapt those methods to cooking over an open fire. Since then I have made significant progress towards becoming a more diverse cooker of fish. I have even created a few fish dishes that I think are quite amazing. It just took a little practice and an abundance of fish. I started experimenting with pan fish using them to make fish balls and then ate a very delicious catfish sausage that I had to attempt. from there it just kept getting more interesting. There was a lake trout risotto and a pike curry, then salt cured fish and crappie spring rolls. I even got around to finally making some pickled fish for the first time.
The one thing I just couldn't bring myself to do was use walleye for anything other than frying. Here in Minnesota walleye are revered and worshipped, we brag about catching them and turn our nose up at many other kinds of fish because nothing compares to walleye. I have been guilty of this just like many others. It got so bad that I went through a long period of time when I didn't catch or eat many fish because I was only targeting walleyes. I remember being a kid and bringing home stringers full of fish, sunnies, bluegills, perch and rock bass and I would eat all of them. Sadly I became so focused on walleyes and cooking that perfect golden brown breaded fillet that I missed out on a lot of fine eating.
That will never happen again, I am still in love with a beautifully fried beer battered walleye fillet and I will still eat many of them, but I have finally branched out and cooked walleye a different way. I bought and read Amy Thielen's new book The New Midwestern Table and in it she has a recipe for a butter basted walleye with garlic and thyme. I had to give it a try.
The method is very simple, you just bring some oil and butter to medium high heat and then toss in some garlic cloves and thyme sprigs. Give your walleye fillets a dusting with flour and then lay them in the pan. I sprinkled my fillets with salt and pepper before I dusted them but you don't have to. While the fillets are cooking you tilt the pan to one side so the oil and butter pool in the pan and with a spoon you just spoon and pour the hot oil over the top of the fillet. This is a really great method for cooking thinner fillets because you don't have to flip the fillet over and risk it falling apart. you can just cook it on one side for 4-5 minutes basting the fillet with oil and butter. It allows the fillet to get a nice crust on one side without over cooking the fillet.
My whole family love it and we were impressed at how wonderful walleye tasted without breading and frying it. I served my walleye over a bed of pasta and beans, it was a recipe my wife found in one of her magazines and called for a can of tuna but I think a nice walleye fillet was a great substitute.