“Nuthin’ Eats Like Pickerel”

Back in the days before Mike and I hooked up and I started to live a (somewhat) more respectable lifestyle, I used to date a lot.  I mean, a lot, and these guys were all across the board.  I dated teachers and journalists, line cooks, landscapers, pre-law and lazy unemployed bums, and about every type of suburban wannabe jock that you could possibly imagine.  It’s not that I was entirely indiscriminate in my choice of men, of course (mostly, perhaps, but not entirely). My theory was more along the lines that everyone could be a potential soul-mate if you just dug down deep enough, and everyone deserved the benefit of a doubt.

At least for the first two dates.  After that, I made no guarantees.

Although it always piqued me to no end when I got dumped, I was also guilty of ending relationships for what may seem like fatuous reasons.  However, could you date a guy whose nose whistled every time he was thinking? What about someone who accentuated every story with fart sounds, even when he was discussing his grandmother’s funeral? I thought not.  At other times, you might be with a perfectly respectable bloke, but you just know that however nice he might be, you’re simply not a good fit so you part ways for some trumped up reason such as poor grammar.

One such fellow was met through a friend who had cooed at me for weeks that we’d be a perfect fit.  If I have fellow serial daters out there who are reading this, did that not just strike fear into your heart?  You know this won’t end well.  I did, however, agree to meet with the man and he was as kind and lovely as reported even though the spark was noticeably absent. The few dates we went on were defined by banal conversations punctuated with interminable periods of silence.  The silence, of course, was a key opportunity for us both to reflect on the fact that our only shared interests included sleeping, drinking, and an avid phobia of motor vehicle accidents caused by the elderly. I should also mention that his abuse of the English language was at times staggering, and I spent half my time biting back chides about double negatives and inappropriate use of the word “giddyup”.  Even so, hope springs eternal, so I took one last kick at that dilapidated can and called the poor bugger up to set another date.

Me:  “Hey, so did you want to hang out this weekend? I thought we could maybe go see a movie or something?”

Him:  “Well, I wannad to see Catwoman….

(awkward silence)

Me:  “…or we could go for dinner? There’s a new restaurant that I wanted to try out down by –”

Him: “Dude, I could totally get diggins in some Swiss Chalet.  Yeaaaaaah, baby! That chicken is mint!!

Me: “…maybe we could go, uh, dancing?”  Note: this was clearly grasping at straws. I am not a dancer. I have the physical stylings of an epileptic baboon at the best of times, and when mixed with beer things only start to degrade.

(awkward silence, again)

Him:  “Actually, I was thinkin’ about going fishin’. You wanna go fishin’?”

Me:  “Fishing?” At this point perhaps an awkward silence might have helped.

Him:  “Yeaaaaaah, baby! I’m going to catch me some pickerel!” I tried to ignore his flagrant disregard for grammar, but failed.

Me: “Oh, yeah. Okay. You’re….you’re going to catch you some pickerel…..huh….”

Him: “Oh yeah, pickerel is mint! I tell ya, nuthin’ eats like PICKEREL!”

Me: “….nothing ‘eats like’….okay, whatever.”

(awkward silence as we both wait for the conversation to end naturally)

Him:  “Yeah. So I better go, ya know, get ready for fishin’ and stuff.”

Me: “Uh huh, that’s cool.”

(SO TIRED OF AWKWARD SILENCE)

Him, sounding wistful: “….NUTHIN’ eats like pickerel…..”

click.

He was really a lovely man with the softest heart that you could possibly ask for, but sometimes a single conversation can be the camel’s back breaking straw for two people who are not star crossed paramours, destined to be together forever and always. Despite all signs pointing to the fact that ending things early was a good move for both of us, I couldn’t help fretting and looking for external validation.  I called up one of my wisest and closest friends, the unfortunate girl who was always stuck listening to my woes and lamentations, and recounted to her my peevishness about the previous night’s conversation. Her response, after a short pause, was, “Yes. I totally understand.  It’s just so true.  NOTHING eats like pickerel…..”

My main takeaway from that short and tepid relationship was, of course, to eat more fish.

Cornmeal Crusted Pickerel with Lemon Caperberry Salsa

Serves 4-6

Cornmeal Crusted Pickerel

  • 2 large whole pickerel filets (650 g/1.5 lb) *
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Lemon Caper Salsa

  • 3 large lemons
  • 1/3 cup large caperberries (~12-14)
  • very small handful fresh dill (2 tbsp, minced)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp agave syrup *
  • salt, to taste

* Pickerel, which is also called Walleye in some areas, belongs to the same family as Pike or Muskellunge (Musky).  It is one of Canada’s most prized fish for the mild sweet flavor, white flaky flesh and excellent texture.  If you can’t find fresh pickerel, a good substitute would be another medium thick firm fleshed white fish like cod, sole or hake.

** Feel free to substitute honey.

Using a sharp paring knife, slice the top and bottom off your lemons and then cut away the peel and pith completely.

Place a wire mesh strainer above a medium sized non-reactive bowl. Supreme the lemon slices over the strainer by slicing along each section right beside the membrane on both sides. As you do this, let any dripping juice collect in the bowl below.  When the first lemon is completely supremed, squeeze the remaining juice from the membrane and body into the bowl.  Continue with the second and third lemons, but no need to squeeze in any additional juice which did not accumulate.

Pick through to remove any pips/seeds from the lemon.

Drizzle the olive oil into the lemon juice, whisking continuously until combined.  Grate or press the garlic clove into the dressing and stir in the agave syrup or honey.  Finely mince the dill and whisk it into the dressing before adding the lemon segments and caperberries.  Gently stir the mixture to coat the lemon, being careful not to break or crush the wedges. Season the dressing with salt if you wish.

The lemon and caperberry salsa can be made a day ahead and refrigerated until ready to use.

Cut the pickerel into manageable pieces of roughly even size, about 2-3 pieces per fillet.  Season both sides of the fish with salt and pepper.

Set out three large shallow bowls.  Place the flour in the first bowl and whisk together the eggs and milk in the second bowl.  Stir the cornmeal with cayenne in the third bowl and season with salt and pepper.

The pickerel fillets are generally uneven in terms of thickness, so if you have a part of the tail or side which is quite thin you’ll want to fold it over and press it onto itself to try to get an even thickness to the fish before it is cooked.

Dredge the pickerel in flour before dipping in the egg mixture. Shake off any excess egg and then coat the pickerel fully in the cornmeal.

Heat an extra large frying pan over medium high heat. If you don’t have a pan large enough to hold all of the fish pieces with enough room that they don’t touch, heat up two fairly large pans instead with half the fat and oil in each one when the pan is hot.

Lay the breaded pickerel into the pan and fry for approximately 3-4 minutes per sidem (6-8 minutes total, depending on thickness).  Pickerel is a fairly forgiving fish, but do try your best not to overcook it. As soon as the pickerel is firm to the touch take it off the heat. It should flake easily when you cut into the center of each fillet.

Serve the cornmeal crusted pickerel immediately while it is still hot and spoon a generous dollop of the lemon caperberry salsa and dressing over top.

The crispy cornmeal crust is a perfect foil for the tender, meaty, sweet and flaky flesh of the pickerel. A bright lemon and caper salsa is infinitely healthier than traditional tartar sauce, and brings just the right tart acidity and salt to complement the fish and prevent it from being too heavy. A good ol’ squeeze of lemon would do exactly the same thing, but certainly doesn’t have the elegance of this salsa, which elevates classic pan fried fish from the realm of Captain Highliner to that of a dinner party classic.

There are important learnings  from every relationship, be it good, bad or just plain ugly.  What stuck with me from this one is that it’s totally okay to break up with a guy who refers to his mother as “totally mint”, and that it is certainly a fact that nothing eats like pickerel.

  • http://thespitefulchef.blogspot.com kristie

    I wonder if I could do this with chicken. Because we don’t have pickerel down here, nor do I have a luscious boyfriend who is willing to catch him some at the slightest whiff of lady perfume. Tina, you temptress, you.