One day, a biologist will explain to me why it is that when ice fishing, the vast majority of your catch are females, or ‘hens’. As an example, the last day I had a bunch of perch in my kitchen sink, 9 out of 9 were female. So what, you ask? Well what this means to me is that I have a surplus of roe. I’ve been cooking it, mostly, then realized that perhaps I am missing the boat on converting it into something unique and special: caviar. As I’ve since learned, caviar is simply brined fish eggs. That’s pretty simple. Most recipes online [Hank's got a nice post about caviar] were from trout or salmon roe. Perhaps freshwater fish roe would suck? Nope. I’ve had Golden Caviar [Whitefish caviar]. You can buy it commercially. I had to try it.
Turns out one of my favorite ice fishing spots is a mile or two away from Doef’s Greenhouses [Ep. 33]. I shot these two episodes in the same morning. A morning I will not soon forget, as I learned that hauling all my fishing camp gear and all of my camera gear for a km or two in deep snow is not a very good idea.
So I made up a 5% brine, threw it into my ice fishing bucket, and set out to give it a go. I’d read that you should do it with super-fresh eggs. I can attest to the fact that they do deteriorate rapidly under refrigeration. Subsequent concept: go catch a fish with a DSLR on record, then kill and de-roe the fish right then and there on the ice. Can’t get much fresher than that. If you want to give this a go, you might want to read up on freezing freshwater fish prior to eating a raw preparation, so you can manage any bug-risks yourself. I’ve done my homework. So how was it? Watch the video.
Some Grant MacEwan University students were at my house the other day doing a photo doc about me, and my dad showed up with a box of 9 perch he’d caught. One of them was a giant 14.5″ long [the fish, not the student], and weighed 830g. The roe sac in the thing was giant, filling my open hand. In fact, every single one of them was female, and I removed all the roe sacs, adding up to a whopping half-kilo+ of perch roe. That’s a lot of roe. What on earth was I going to do with that much roe.
The man who guided me last month for Episode 26, and as a consequence got me hooked on this ice fishing thing [I've gone every single week since then], suggested frying the roe until crispy. Sounded interesting – I’d only ever cooked roe until just done. Crispy things, generally speaking, are tasty. As it turns out, fish eggs take a long time to get crispy – but they do. They also pop all over, many an egg making an escape from the pan like popcorn might do without a lid. I recommend covering the pan with a screen. I added a bit of red onion, salt, and it definitely benefited from some pepper. Happened to have some re-fried mashed potato to go with it, and those to things get along. Fried eggs and potatoes, outside the box. The cous-cous-like fish eggs kind of end up like a fried breadcrumb topping, which is very pleasant. I would do this again, but would love to try it when there are fresh chives, parsley, maybe some chervil in the garden to finish and toss them with. More roe R&D is on its way soon.
When small, the photo on the left looks strikingly like a giant storm of doom shot from space. But it’s just an ice hole. An ice hole that hardly had a line put down it this morning, because, as I was fated to learn, small children have no attention span for ice fishing. Which is cool. I brought other stuff to do – books, sand toys, food, etc. No dice. My 3 year old complained the entire time, starting before arrival. Too cold, wanted mommy, wanted to go home. What I fail to understand is that on the way home, after essentially ruining everybody else’s morning complaining and crying, she declares: ‘I love ice fishing!’. I don’t understand.
The lake we went to is one that’s aerated and stocked with 40,000 trout a year. Figured that might result in some coolness. Nope. Not a bite. Although when you let the toddlers choose their lures, and spend zero time manning a line, you’re not exactly setting yourself up for success. To make things worse, unlike the last time I went ice fishing [Episode 26], we couldn’t see anything much beyond the hole. For whatever reason, the water’s murkier. I’ll choose a lake I can see into, every time. Just a matter of figuring which ones those are exactly. Thankfully the lake was close to the city, it was a beautiful morning, and all my new ice fishing gear worked out a treat. Couldn’t have sucked too bad, as I’m going to a different lake tomorrow. Without the 3-year-old.
I grew up hunting and gardening, abandoned them both as a young adult, then fell in love with both again later in life. Apparently, same goes for ice fishing. I have semi-fond memories of exhausty ski-doo-trailer rides on to the lake, sitting on a pail getting blasted by the elements, eye lashes freezing together, not catching much of anything, getting cold, and hearing stories about how at one time you caught way more and way bigger fish. When you’re a kid, those kind of stories are far from any form of consolation.
A friend of mine [who I met when shooting another video, coincidentally] invited me out ice fishing with him and a co-worker of his, and I just couldn’t say no. It’s January. In my usually busy food world, action had slowed. Gardening season was over. Hunting season was over. But ice fishing is just getting started. And I had a blast, despite it being a particularly slow day. Ice fishing is immeasurably more enjoyable when you’re protected from the elements in a shack, and more importantly, can see down the hole to watch the fish swim about. Add to that some camaraderie and wild-food action – I now get why folks enjoy it. I’m hooked. I want to go again.
Music courtesy of The AwesomeHots
Years ago it hit me with music. Then almost with wine. Now with food? There’s a great quote in Mondovino from a senior Wine Spectator guy referring to the cost of reguarly subjecting something you love to disection and critique – it inevitably damaging your love for whatever it is you’re scrutinizing. Getting stuck analyzing the minutae and generally missing the bigger picture. I have some work to do to avoid going down that road with food.
Pickled fish. I fall into a rare category of ‘like’ with pickled fish, as most are solidly in ‘love’ or ‘hate’ camps – most having the hate on. And honestly, I get it. Mushy fishyness isn’t my bag either. But this is not that.
One day, a farmer who pickles white fish by this recipe visited my dad. My dad is in the ‘love’ camp, and quickly declared it the best he’d ever had. My goose-hunting-uncle, also in the same ‘love’ camp, declared the same. My dad had a connection with a commercial whitefish fisherman [I didn't know that existed]. And the mission was on to pickle a whack of white fish. Not so much my mission, but one that I eagerly jumped on board for.
So a couple weeks ago, I was in my dad’s garage helping fillet about 100 lbs of fish. It was then salt cured. Then spent a few days in vinegar. Then two weeks in the final brine with some onion. The result? First, and foremost – a pleasant texture. Certainly the best that I too, have had. And nearly as important, it has no fishiness, but a very bright, acidic, pickle flavor that is also very pleasant. Good thing. Cause it looks like I have a few quarts of pickled fish to eat…