When I posted about my recent yellow perch frenzy on Lake Ontario, I forgot to mention one important fact that connects my ice fishing endeavors to the theme of this blog: yellow perch is closely related to the European perch, which is very popular with anglers in Eastern Europe.
In kitchens back in Mother Russia, perch is often smoked, fried, baked, or boiled, and served with all kinds of vegetables and mushrooms. It’s often the fish of choice for making ukha, a Russian fish soup that’s almost as thin as a broth.
My ice-fishing track record has been pretty disappointing this year. Disappointing as in not a single fish caught all season. Same as last year, come to think of it. I do feel like I know better what I’m doing: I read books, I talk to the locals, I sort of know where to look, I drill a lot of holes, I keep track of lake depth and structure. Sometimes I even see blips that look like fish on my sonar.
But all winter long, the fish didn’t bite. At least not my lines. Three times I’ve been to Saratoga Lake, reputed to one of the best fishing lakes in New York State — and got nothing. I spent a day on Lake George, dragging my sled though a foot of snow, struggling against incessant gusts of wind to prevent my gear from getting buried and my holes from freezing over — still nothing. Meanwhile, Outdoorsman Bill was parading on his web site with his daily bucketloads of perch and Putin-worthy pike.
I needed help. I wanted my own bucket of perch. So I made the five-hour drive to see Bill last weekend.
A few months back, I reported my giant catch of delicious, bright-orange-fleshed lake trout from Lake Ontario. Although I usually avoid freezing fish, that time I had no choice. This gave me plenty of trout to use, to try and perfect this ballotine recipe.
There are many sources of inspiration for this recipe…
About two years ago, I posted a recipe for vodka-cured lake trout. Since I once again find myself with a profusion of trout — this time from Lake Ontario — I wanted to try a different kind of alcohol cure. (Incidentally, it’s quite interesting to compare the bright orange color of the Ontario fish to the pale pink-beige shade of the trout from Keuka Lake.)
Unlike the vodka cure, Hungarian Tokaji wine brings some subtle fruity notes to the fish. I’m not using just any Tokaji table wine, but an Aszú 4 puttonyos to get the right amount of sugar. However, I highly doubt that anyone would taste the result and exclaim, “Wow, this trout really tastes like Tokaji!” So to make this more than a gimmick, I serve it with small cubes of Tokaji jelly — and wow, these cubes really taste like Tokaji!
It’s not easy, preparing elaborate recipes with fish you catch yourself. Sometimes, you come home empty-handed and anything you’ve thought of making has to wait until next time — this has happened a lot to me recently. But at other times, you land 40 lb of fish, and then you have to act fast — like two weeks ago, after a day on Lake Ontario with Captain Troy.
I recently adapted a recipe for Jarred Salmon In Olive Oil from a Russian cookbook titled Pro Okhotu I Rybalku [Of hunting and fishing]. Here’s another idea I yanked from this book: adding pork fat to fish to make burger patties. Although I’m using salmon today, you could choose almost any fish you like.
The rest of the recipe is my own invention: baked tomato halves for additional juiciness, a kind of bean ketchup (with a lot of olive oil to balance the beans’ dry mouthfeel), and potato buns. There will be a recipe coming for my homemade potato buns very soon, but in the meantime you’ll have to cope with the store-bought ones that don’t taste like potato (because they contain nearly as much food coloring as potato flour) and are pre-cut in a less than optimal fashion (see my picture above). On the side, whole fingerling potatoes are deep-fried exactly as for the perfect fries, and topped with fried parsley. The result isn’t quite as crispy as real fries because of the lower starch content of the fingerlings, but is still rather excellent.
ETA: The potato bun recipe is here!
Spring is here, and despite the persisting snowfalls throughout New York State, the ice fishing season is coming to a close. I haven’t had much luck recently. No matter how hard I tried and how long I froze my butt (sometimes way after all the other fishermen had given up), I didn’t land anything. I’m starting to doubt whether some of the lakes I’ve been to actually contain fish at all. So I decided to have my small revenge and just buy some fresh salmon at the store.
For a change, here’s a recipe from the “let’s make a trivial dish with 3 ingredients and write about it” school of blogging. It’s inspired by something I found in a Russian cookbook called Pro Okhotu I Rybalku [Of hunting and fishing]. Not only does it come with very appetizing pictures, and cover most wild game and fish you’re likely to kill for food, but it offers a different take on preparing your catch. There are traditional Russian dishes of course, but also more creative recipes (such as partridges in chocolate sauce or pigeons with kumquats and couscous).
This recipe is inspired by the crab salad I ate at Baku Palace in Sheepshead Bay a few weeks ago (my restaurant review will come soon, but for now the place is still without power since Hurricane Sandy). The original recipe was terribly deceptive, as the dish, priced at $20 for two people, consisted of julienned cucumber, ground walnut, and… surimi.
So, in order to get rid of the feeling of being cheated, I figured I’d do my own version at home, for about the same price but with real king crab. I added a couple of elements to the recipe and I’m serving it on toasted bread, but the spirit remains the same. Compared to many other posts on my blog, this is surprisingly quick and easy to make. And still delicious!
Last year, I made Lake Trout Sausage with trout caught in Keuka Lake. This recipe uses Chinook salmon from the Salmon River, but the difference doesn’t stop there. This is really a sausage that copies the model of your usual meat sausage, and it’s definitely not pescatarian. In order to get the level of greasy goodness I want, I’m using beef fat. As it turns out, beef shares many chemical compounds with salmon, and when you think about it, in American food, salmon’s a little bit like the beef of the sea: fatty, full-flavored, and even cut into steaks.
Natural sausage casings can be purchased here, and your butcher’s likely to give you fat from steak trimmings for free. Of course, you’ll need a meat grinder and sausage stuffer.
No, this is not a post about some remote arm of the Black Sea in the Republic of Georgia. The strait I’m referring to is the Strait of Georgia near Vancouver, BC! We took a family trip to Hollywood North last month, and I used the opportunity to book my first saltwater fishing trip with Captain Guy at Bonnie Lee Charters.