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.