Pan-Fried Yellow Perch or Pickerel Filets

By Gail Gordon Oliver

There's nothing quite like eating a mess of freshly caught lake fish that's been quickly filleted and pan-fried. My memories of fresh lake fish go back to my days as a kid at our seasonal country house in the Laurentians, where I'd go fishing off the pier or with my father and grandfather in my father's little 5-horsepower "putt-putt." The catch was usually perch and sunfish, with the occasional catfish and small-mouthed bass. My grandmother or father would filet the perch or bass (the sunfish were deemed too small and bony to bother with and were always thrown back in the water and, sigh, the catfish were seen as grotesque and inedible).

My grandmother sometimes made a very simple and delicious fish soup with our catch, and my father would dust the filets with a bit of flour and salt and fry them up with onions.

For this recipe, I'm using the method preferred by Denis Kreze, the ice-fisherman mentioned in Tiffany Mayer's article beginning on page 20. He's also responsible for the gorgeous photo of pickerel being fried up that you see before you. Denis likes to soak the filets in milk combined with a bit of lemon juice or in buttermilk before cooking; this removes the fishiness of fish like pickerel, leaving just the pure, clean taste of fresh fish. He also likes to fry his fish in good old butter. I am not including quantities for fish or the ingredients required to cook them. Just get yourself a mess of fresh lake fish filets (and you don't have to stick with just perch or pickerel) and make yourself a fish fry.

Ingredients: Fish filets, milk or buttermilk, freshly squeezed lemon juice if using milk, flour, salt, freshly ground black pepper, eggs, butter and/or oil (I like to use a combination of pastured butter and heart-healthy camelina or coconut oil (neutral-flavoured/aroma-free), but feel free to use any of your preferred fats.

Method: Rinse the fish in cold water. In a shallow pan, soak the filets in milk to cover for 30 minutes to an hour. Drain and dry the fish. Lightly dredge each filet in a pan of flour that has been seasoned with salt and pepper, shaking off the excess. Dip each floured filet into a bowl of egg wash (egg beaten with a bit of water), allowing the excess to drip off. Dredge them again in the flour mixture. In a large frying pan (preferably cast iron), heat enough butter and/or oil at medium to medium-high heat to completely cover the bottom of the pan by about 1/4-inch. Gently place the filets into the pan (taking care not to crowd the pan), cooking each side until the fish is lightly browned and just cooked through. Transfer the fish onto towels to drain, lightly salting the fish as soon as it comes out of the fry pan. Adjust the heat accordingly with each batch if the fish appears to be browning too quickly.