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Speaking with my Stomach

Jul 13, 2023

Aug 5, 2023


Hello again friends, and welcome back to another little culinary discussion. This week I thought we could talk about whitefish, a U.P. special and delicacy.

Whitefish, particularly fresh whitefish, is a big pull in the Marquette area, as well as up here in the Copper Country where I am, and shouldn’t be handled lightly. So what should we know about whitefish?

This is true for any meat you’re working with, but I think it doubles for fish, in that you should get it fresh if you can. Frozen is easier on the budget, I admit, but workability and true flavor, get it fresh if you’re trying to impress. Check around your local markets and grocery stores to see if you can get it fresh, but frozen is okay, too.

When we’re looking at our whitefish selection, the next question is whether you want it straight fresh from the lake, or do you want it smoked? Both are super versatile, but smoked whitefish is coming right out of the gate with an extra flavor profile, of course, and doesn’t need as much attention as unpreserved whitefish.

Let’s see what we can do to blow this whitefish out of the water. Right now I’m seeing breaded/crispy as one big option, and the second selection being sauced. I don’t have a favorite way myself, so it’s really to each person’s discretion on this one.

Savory Great Lakes whitefish that’s been prepared is pictured. (Photo courtesy

Prep comes first, though. Start off by washing that guy off. Rinse him like you would a chicken breast; run pretty cold water on him for a bit and let it run down the drain. You can keep them in a colander, but get your hands involved. You almost want to ring him out to make sure he’s good and clean. Make sure to sanitize your sink afterwards, though. You don’t want whatever was on him to stick around in your sink. We’re dealing with fish here; fish can be every bit a health problem as raw chicken can be.

That being said, have a cutting board and a knife expressly for the fish, and don’t let it touch anything else around your prep. We do not want cross contamination. If your sides or garnishes spend too much time on your fish board or gets prepped with the same knife, you can have a real bad time.

Now that the safety aspect is covered, let’s talk real prep and building the meal.

Let’s do breading first. Do you want to do breading, or are you thinking more of a crushed almond coding? It’s a pretty big decision.

If we’re going crushed almond or any kind of nut of your choosing, it’s fun. Load your nuts into a bag and really go to town. Really beat it up, you know? Smack it on the counter, hit the bag with a hammer or smash it with whatever, just don’t break your countertop.

Let’s switch over to the breading station to see how that’s going. So for this, you’re going to want a sizable mixing bowl. We’re going to want to start out with flower, of course. We’re also going to add our seasonings at this point. Do you want to go for an earthy, headier breading, or are you thinking more herbal?

If we’re going herbal, I’d think about basil, thyme, and rosemary primarily. I wouldn’t reach for oregano on this one because that’s closer to Italian cooking like pasta and pizza sauces, and we’re not about that right now. If we’re going herbal, it could do real wonders to add in a bit of lemon-pepper seasoning if you want a bit of zest and to not be completely about the leaves.

If we’re shooting for earthy, we’re looking at the usual customers like paprika, cumin, black pepper, maybe some white pepper, if you want to have just a touch of darker color and a tinge of heat, you can add chili or cayenne. That’s unorthodox, but some people like a kick. Some ground mustard would be an interesting, unique decision, too. We don’t want this to look like a barbecue rub, though, so balance accordingly.

The procedure for fish coating is pretty standard. The fish is already wet from rinsing, so you can get it coded nicely in the flour and seasonings, and then you’re going to want to run it through the dredge, which is usually milk and egg or just egg. Dairy milk or a non-dairy alternative is up to your dietary needs, but they’ll all work.

The dredge is important because it helps your seasonings stay to the fish, and keeps it from being a dry, dusty, chaotic wasteland. The egg helps it get that nice crust to it, and will also help your crushed nuts stick to it, if that was your plan. You can leave it just flowered and washed if you want, but a nut coding, or a panko breading, or fine breadcrumbs would be great.

Once we’re nice and topped, you can decide if you want to pan-fry it, deep fry it, or cook it in the oven. You could do a hybrid method of pan searing it with melted butter and then moving the whole operation into the oven to finish it off.

Let’s say you don’t want to do a breaded or dredged fish. This is a totally different ball game.

Forget the breading and the dredge stations. Keep your fish off to the side, and let’s talk about what we’re going to cook this with.

We don’t want this guy to dry up, so whether we’re doing it on a stove-top pan or in the oven, we’re going to keep it moist and tender. So we’re going to want extra virgin olive oil or butter. This is going to coat the pan, and the fish.

I’m a huge fan of cooking wine and fresh lemon juice for this. Once our fish is properly wet with our liquid insulators, we need to season this. If we’re not going flour and breading, I’m seeing a citrus and herby kind of guy. I’m going to want salt, black pepper, lemon-pepper, you can even use lemon zest and finely grated peel if you want to get real nice. We also might think about basil, thyme, and rosemary. You can use ground for seasoning it, and then sprigs of whatever you like on the side to garnish it.

Pan cooking is an option, but you’ll want to cover it, and keep an eye on it to make sure it stays hydrated. It’s a lot easier to burn on the outsides and not evenly cook inside, so you want to be careful, especially if it’s a thicker filet. We can also put it in an oven pan and aluminum foil cover it to keep moisture in. Nobody wants a dry fish. No matter how you choose to cook this whitefish, make sure it comes out to 145 degrees throughout the filet.

Lastly, we’re going to want to talk about dressing it up. You can use fresh rosemary, or the sprigs as previously mentioned. One of my favorite things to do is an herb butter. Flavored butters are super easy. Get the butter soft but not melted, and then it’s as simple as adding whatever seasoning you want to accent your butter with. I’ve had good results with a bit of honey, lavender, the smallest touch of salt, and then a dash of sage of basil.

You can make a cream sauce or aioli for it, too, which isn’t much harder than the butter. Cream base, add your flavors, some fresh minced garlic maybe, blend it, and then top after the fish is done.

Recommended sides would be rice, I’d go wild rice since we’re talking lake fish, or some decent potatoes, what kind is really up to you, and a nice veggie like broccoli or a green bean and baby carrot mix. #gallery-5 { margin: auto; } #gallery-5 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 33%; } #gallery-5 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-5 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */

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