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Outdoors Niagara Note: The following is some GREAT ways to handle your fresh caught fish and game BEFORE attempting to clean and cook them up for your family and friends. Although the writer refers to walleye, it is recommended the procedure is used on all fresh caught fish.
|To better fill the skillet,
learn the skill to fillet
By Will Elliot ~ Buffalo News Outdoors
Lots of folk are giving Lake Erie walleye a try - bake, broil or fry. After a few down years for walleye catching on Lake Erie, a healthy class of 2003 fish - along with good eastern migration this season - has sent a number of new trollers out with the cast of regulars in search of 'eyes out of New York State ports from Buffalo west to Barcelona Harbor.
Trollers often come in with a four-fish-per-angler limit, with many walleye from earlier year classes that weigh from 3 to over 10 pounds each.
As with venison, waterfowl, upland game and all other species of freshwater fish, walleye meat can be a table delicacy - with the right care as soon as they are opted as keepers.
Fortunately, few anglers today will drag walleye around on a stringer looped onto the boat gunwale. Those days are long gone. Savvy open-water trollers keep some kind of larger cooler on board to get their fish on ice as soon as possible.
What happens after a walleye "goes into the box" can make the difference between an excellent main entree or a "fishy" fry, bake or broil.
Schools abound on the first steps in fish handing. Some like to bleed the fish by slicing its gills and putting it on a stringer for a few minutes. This method results in pure white fillets when the fish is cleaned.
Others use a club or handle to tap a walleye at a point that forms a triangle behind its eyes. This way, the fish goes immediately on ice without flipping around in the box. This makes cooler cleaning a bit easier afterward.
Stand and look around fish cleaning stations at Dunkirk Harbor or the Hanover Launch site on Cattaraugus Creek, especially after a contest or during peak periods during the weekend.
I've fished Lake Erie for about a half century and watched how anglers use their knives to prepare fish for consumption. After all these observations, I've come to one certainty on fish preparation: No two people clean fish the same way.
In general, all cleaners cut out cheeks of larger walleye. Most try to slide around the rib cage as they trim down the front of the spine.
After that, anglers wielding either a knife blade or an electric knife remove fish meat in patterns as various as snowflakes.
Some are fast; others go slowly. All strive to get the most meat possible. But with Erie's bigger 'eyes, selective trimming and care of the finished fillets make for much nicer meat served by all means.
Electric knife users have a slight advantage over blade handlers when it comes to removing that liver-colored lining that forms under the skin of walleyes once they reach 3-4 pounds in three to four years.
An electric knife allows for an easy lift as the motor saws under a fillet being lifted off the skin side. Also, many using electric knives will slice through the rib bones and then turn the fillet around to either remove the entire rib cage or trim at an angle, to lifting ribs from the outer fillet meat.
Knife handlers tend to get more cheek meat than a
powered knife on each pass. Either way, cheek meat cooks up like scallops,
with a firmness and distinctive flavor.
Getting that "off" taste out of fillets presents another sea of opinions. One angler said he soaks fillets in salt water in the refrigerator for two days.
For the past few years, the Sons of Lake Erie, a fishing club based in Erie, Pa., has printed an illustration of recommended steps for getting that "white stuff" out of fish fillets.
Sons recommend placing fillets in a deep bowl of water and baking soda, with a plate on top of the meat, and putting the bowl in a refrigerator overnight. A foam/residue forms on the top of the water the next day. Rinse the fillets for either immediate consumption or freezing.
Dick Harlock, proprietor of Gogama Lodge, has a way to shorten the soaking time and have walleye fillets cream white and ready for cooking in minutes. Harlock takes a handful of fillets to a double sink half filled on each side. He places the ball of meat in one side and gently squeezes it like a sponge.
He then switches the fillet ball to the other sink, drains and refills the opposite sink and repeats this squeezing sequence three more times.
Voila! Guests at Gogama Lodge enjoy walleye - and all other game fish clients catch - freshly caught and freshly prepared.
You can also, try these cleaning tips on bass, pike, trout, salmon and all other fish fillets, making them incredibly edible.
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