I grew up in a place and a time when the fish on the table was always local (unless it was tuna or salmon, which were always canned), and bore names like Perch, Whitefish, Trout, Bass, Bluegill, Sturgeon, Freshwater Smelt or the supremely-elegant Northern Pike. In Michigan and Wisconsin in the 1940’s and 50’s it seemed that if you ate fish it had almost certainly been caught by a friend, someone in your own family, or your little boy self (and that last always accompanied with great resistance, because of the yuck factor of impaling squishy worms and, possibly, removing the bloodied hook from a desperate, squirming fish).
I only remember the catch prepared as lightly-floured and fried fillets, although on special occasions, in the case of Whitefish or Sturgeon sent by relatives near Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, it was served smoked.
Everything changed when I first traveled to and lived in Europe in the early sixties, and especially after I moved to the American East Coast three years later. The whole world of sea food opened up to me for the first time. I never went back, literally and figuratively, although I did find myself weeping on the news of the virtual disappearance of most native Great Lakes species while I was becoming more and more estranged from the world in which I had grown up.
I hadn’t realized what had been lost to my palate until this month, when I brought home and prepared a fillet of wild pike (from West Virginia) on a visit to Lobster Place inside Chelsea Market. Trying for an homage to my Wisconsin German heritage, I looked for a recipe my ancestors might have enjoyed in the old country.
The Pike was awesome!
- fillet of West Virginia Pike, Badischer Grashecht mit Speck gebraten (Baden pike with Guanciale substituting for the traditional bacon), a from “Culinaria Germany” which asks for the fillet to be seasoned and lightly-floured, sauteed at high heat in clarified butter on both sides, removed to a buttered pan and placed in a 350 degree oven for ten minutes covered by small pieces of Guanciale, followed for another ten minutes with the addition of onion, thyme and white wine, after that the “bacon” removed and the fish dotted w/butter, returned to the oven until the skin was crispy, and finally served with the cooking juices spooned over the fillet; accompanied by boiled Norland Red potatoes from Muddy River Farm in the Union Square Greenmarket, finished with butter and parsley
- bosc pear from Migliorelli Farm at the Union Square Greenmarket and dried Turkish figs from Garden of Eden
- wine: Mosel, Pündericher Marienburg Riesling Falkenlay 2004, Clemens Busch from Mosel Wine Merchants
[image from ohioanglers]