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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Dining on the ‘Wild’ Side

Preparing and cooking locally caught fish.
There is nothing more rewarding to me than being able to harvest and cook fresh fish from local waters. As a full-time chef, I take advantage of being able to tap into my “culinary tackle box,” which is filled with recipes and techniques I have collected over the years. As a passionate fisherman, I have experimented with a variety of species commonly caught in our area.

The key to fish cookery is starting with an exceptional product. This process starts immediately upon harvesting the fish, which is why my fish (especially during the warmer months) typically go from the hook directly onto ice. Filleting the fish, if choosing to do so, requires a critical understanding that each fish has its own unique skeletal structure. Learning to fillet different species of fish will take time. The goal is to end up with a high-yielding, boneless fillet that will make for a pleasurable dining experience. Even one or two bones can be a turn-off, especially when introducing a new recipe to your family for the first time. The best way to easily access the right tutorial? YouTube! There are thousands of good how-to videos on the web that will have you filleting like an old deckhand in no time.

Before taking fish home to cook, anglers should be aware of any health advisories that are in effect for the body of water they are fishing. Health advisories will vary dramatically from place to place. (Up-to-date information is found on the New York State DEC website.) Plan to take fish only from sources that are not on any of the advisory lists, as some fish may contain trace amounts of mercury, PCBs, or other harmful chemicals.

My favorite local species to target for my table are rainbow trout, walleye, yellow perch, black crappie, and landlocked salmon. Delicate and delicious when cooked properly, these fish are better than most seafood you will find in the supermarket nowadays. They are also all sustainable, fish you can truly feel good eating.

When considering taking a fish to consume, the absolute best size fish to take are small to medium-sized fish that can be legally taken. Information on legal size restriction is available on the NYSDEC website, and education is critical before harvesting any of the aforementioned species. We are huge advocates of catch and release as well as responsible harvest, which means taking the smaller “eater” class fish. The small fish will taste better, and by releasing the larger “breeding class” fish, anglers can rest assured that the population will flourish for years to come.

Here are a couple of dishes featuring local fishes that I find unique and simple to prepare. I hope you enjoy making these after a successful day on the water. These recipes are healthy and feature some international flavors that will take your fish cookery well beyond the tartar sauce and beer batter. Bon Appetit!

Hazelnut Crusted Lake George Perch Fillets
with Grapefruit, Endive, and Local Maple Butter Sauce

For the fish
2 pounds perch fillets, cleaned
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
½  cup hazelnuts, finely chopped
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
6 tablespoons butter, melted
Salt and pepper to taste
For the salad
2 Belgian endive, finely julienned  and soaked in water with lemon
2 grapefruit, sectioned, removing all white pith
1 pound baby arugula
Olive oil to coat
For the sauce
1 cup white wine
¼ cup cider vinegar
2 shallots, finely minced
4 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
2 cups heavy cream
¼  cup maple syrup
8 tablespoons butter, cold cut  into small cubes
• Set oven to 375 degrees.
• Gently coat fish with about one tablespoon of melted butter, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the fish on a sheet tray lined with foil.
• Combine the Panko, nuts, sugar, thyme, parsley, and remaining butter in a mixing bowl. Top each fish fillet with a bit of the crunchy hazelnut crumb mixture, and bake until the tops are golden brown and fish flakes easily, about 12 to 15 minutes.
• While the fish is baking, make the sauce. In a small saucepan, add the wine, vinegar, shallot, thyme, and bay; bring to a simmer. Reduce by 80%. Add the heavy cream and syrup, and continue to reduce over medium-low heat until thick and bubbly, about 15 minutes.
• Strain mixture and return to pan. On a very low heat, add the butter a little at a time using a wire whisk until all butter is incorporated.
• Season with salt and pepper to taste, and hold in a warm area until ready to plate.
• Toss all salad ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Arrange salad on a plate. Top with a few fillets of fish and drizzle with the maple butter sauce. Enjoy!


Vietnamese Fish Soup Featuring Local Walleye Fillets

2 pounds walleye fillet, cut into large cubes
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, ground
2 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 kaffir lime leaves
½ cup sherry
1 can diced tomato
2 cups lobster broth (available at many markets)
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup tamari or soy sauce
2 cups bok choy, shredded
1 red pepper, julienned finely
1 carrot, julienned finely
4oz shiitake mushroom, julienned finely
4 limes, juiced
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
¼ cup fresh mint, chopped
• In a large soup pot, add a little canola oil and bring to high heat.
• Add the ginger, garlic, and shallot; sauté for about two minutes. Add lime leaf and cook until fragrant.
• Add the sherry and reduce until dry. Add the tomato, lobster broth, fish sauce, and soy; bring to a simmer.
• Add vegetables, and simmer five more minutes until about halfway cooked through. Add fish, ensuring that it is just covered by the liquid. Simmer until fish is cooked through and opaque, and then add lime juice.
• Serve immediately in large bowls with steamed rice if desired. Garnish with freshly chopped herbs!
Joey Greco
Joey Greco
Captain Joe Greco is the founder of Justy-Joe Charters on Lake George and is a contributing writer for Capital Region Living.

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