This is a bit of redemption for me. 2 years ago, I wrote about pickling whitefish, and failed at documenting the recipe or approach to it. So this time around, I’m taking notes as I plan on doing this often. It’s not fussy, it’s tasty, and strikes me as the kind of thing every good northerner should be happy to tuck into with a beer or vodka. So when the fish in the photo below came into my life, I knew its fate. I’ll never forget this fish. I’d never caught a whitefish. And for whatever reason, they kept popping off the hook while just coming out of the ice hole. Flopping in the hole, no hook or line attached, trying to sort out escape. So I panicked…or rather…thought quick on my feet. Whitefish number one that day was scooped out of the hole with my kitchen spider [which does only a marginally good job at de-slushing a hole, btw]. The bad boy in the photo below, which looks kind of like a minnow in the photo but was actually a foot and a half + long, I scooped out with my hand – my reflex being to plunge my arm down the hole after it, and fling it out onto the ice. Some good laughs were had. This one fish made 3 pints of pickled fish.
So here’s the deal with the pickling. Fillet. I took the rib cage off via filleting from the back toward the abdomen. The bones go soft in the pickle, so no biggy if they’re left in. Cube the fish into 1X1″ pieces. For 3-4 fish: 1 cup salt, 5 cups water. Make a brine. Let the fish sit in the brine for 96 hrs. Drain. Cover fish pcs with white vinegar. Let soak for 96 hrs. Drain. Prior to jarring, make and chill a brine solution of 1.5 cups white sugar, 2 cups vinegar, 2 tbsp pickling spice or other aromatics of choice. Pack jars tightly, pour on brine, and eat from a week later to a few months later. Too long and the texture goes mushier – when fresh and with 96 hr cure times, the texture is pleasant, dense, and if you hate pickled fish, these could easily change your mind. They changed mine. I’m sure you could use less salt and sugar, but to me, these are like junk food – like tying into a bag of chips. Now: patience. Hard to wait that first week. Need to catch more whitefish.
Hi Kevin – just wondering why the choice to pickle and not just freeze the fish? Does pickling change the nutritional content in any way (positive or negative?)
Hi Brenda – that’s an easy one: cause it’s yummy. Doesn’t have anything to do with food preservation in my world. Quite poor at that job in fact as we just eat it up quickly anyway!
A couple pickling pros though: bones are a non-issue, which is nice. it goes a lot further – ie, one fish makes 3 pints, which lasts a while vs. 1 fish for dinner for 4 hungry folks and it’s gone.
I pickled some herring recently that didn’t call for step two, and they turned out fantastic. Omitted step two on some pickled pike I did up a couple weeks ago and they turned out really nice and firm but too salty.
Andrew – thanks for sharing. I’m resolved that there’s a million ways to skin this cat. I can tell you that the second step [the vinegar soak] yielded a murky-ish and ‘less-pleasant’ aroma than the finished product, so I’m not sad to keep that in my process if only to have a ‘cleaner’ product. Interesting how the different fish needed different treatment. This recipe is a from some farmers who ice fish all the time in central Saskatchewan [they go 96 hrs].
Kevin, you were losing fish because they have very fragile, tender mouth that breaks under the weight of fish. Typical problem. I talked once with a fellow who invented a special big hook to get them out of the hole. I haven’t fished for whitefish through ice but in the open water, I could only gently slide them out of the water (if it was a proper hole) or use a net with a long handle. Even then, when being very gentle with handling it on a long road, some go away.
And with pickling, enjoy the taste. Indeed, if the vinegar is strong and fish left long enough, you don’t have to worry about any bones. They all will be soft. Actually, that can be quite good as meat is always most tasty around bones. :)
Looks amazing- we are to scared to go out on the ice here in Ontario! If and when I do I want to try this I love pickled fish. Thanks!
Hey Kevin, SWEET PICKLING ACTION Mister !
My picking world changed FOREVS two years ago, by way of using the NATURAL VINEGAR that SuperStore sells under their Presidents Choice label, this and filtered water, ho AAA pickle NIRVANA Good Sir.
having SAID that, I am unaware that vinegar can come from UN natural sources, but I can tell you the difference in the end product is LIP SMACKIN GOOD !
Keep up the EXcellent work !
My mouth is watering…
Dude! Nice whitefish! Brings back memories of fishing on Wabamun Lake before the oil spill. There were some monster whitefish in there. Suppose there still are although I wouldn’t eat them now. During my fish guiding days in NWT one of the oldtimer guides caught grayling and pickled them on a regular basis. He would simply gut and skin the fish (remove head and tail) and stuff them into jars with his recipe.
The mushy texture you describe works especially well when making canned fish sandwiches…but now that I think about it there’s a difference between pickled fish and canned fish isnt there…never mind then.
Was hoping to catch a video of you catching a fish Kevin! Later.
I’m still not sue how I feel about pickled fish but I guess until you try it…
Next time you catch whitefish if you want to try something different you could try serving them up as a faux lobster. A friend once did this by dropping pieces of fish into salted boiling water. Once the fish turned white and curled we dipped into butter and had faux lobster. I thought it was really good.
Geeze, I wonder if that recipe would work with salmon. Not Sockeye but the dreaded white stuff we call Dog Salmon because it’s tasteless stuff that’s only good for smoking. Mmmmmmmm . . . . Can’t wait to get my hands on some & try it out.
Slav – I’ve modified some wire for grabbing fish out of the hole and tested it last time I was out with pike, and it worked really well. Better than getting one’s arm wet when outdoors!
Laura – I’ve drilled too many holes in ice 2-3′ deep to have any more fear about being on the ice. Can’t believe how thick it is right now. Ontario might be a different situation though.
Todd – good to know, I’ll give that vinegar a go! I’m making some cider vinegar, but thinking apple notes and pickled fish isn’t the best idea.
Holden – yeah? Pickled fish isn’t for everybody – must be the northern European in your blood. ;)
John – My dad taught me how to head, gut, and skin perch so you have a bone-in whole fish. Those should be pickle-able. Although stuffing jars might be a problem. And serving might be a problem. It never ceases to amaze me the number of hunting/fishing adventures you’ve been on. Jealous.
Judy – I bet poached and buttered it would be tasty! Poaching is one of my favourite methods of cooking fish in general, and I haven’t tried it with whitefish – will have to give it a go.
Sharon – I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. Just keep the pcs small and thin, mostly for texture and ease of eating it afterward. Which species is it that you call ‘dog salmon’ – or do you mean the odd one that has white flesh…I’ve seen those.
Are you talking chums? Just wondering, because bright chum have easily as much flavor as the other types, but it’s very different; even dark chums have good flavor. I worked on a chum troller for a couple seasons and so got to see a few — my boss’s theory was that they eat jellyfish so it gives them a kind of iodine-y flavor.
Or do you mean pinks that have been in freshwater so long the flesh has turned white? I found “boot” pinks to be really good if you take the skin off but I used the white-fleshed ones as cod bait.
I bet the west coast trout would be good in a pickle.
Mithrush tip of the day:
Grow long nails on one your left hand if you are right handed vice versa otherwise. When the fish nears the top of the hole, get those nails under the scales and pop the fish out of the hole… improvised gaff hooks are not legal in Alberta regardless of make or manufacture…
Really fresh ocean fish always taste of iodine – it was a big shock to me when I had my first Ocean fish. I’m referring to white – we call them Dog salmon – that come out of the river. They often taste muddy so all the fishermen I know smoke them or sell them for dog food. Not up on all my varieties of salmon since I usually only eat Sockeye unless it’s smoked hard – not a snob but if I’m gonna clean, descale & butcher slippery fish, I want the best ones!!! Dogs are very cheap so I may try Kevin’s pickled fish recipe when they run this year!
Hey Kevin !
Home bilt cider vinegar = NICE ! Braggs for mother culture ? Been eyeing up that MAPLE VINEGAR via Ideas in Food, think I am gonna give it a GO ! Their approach to Kimchi is super good ( the addition of pear ) , when one omits the narsty seafood component in favor of miso paste for the glutamaic goodness that is required. DEADLY base for fried rice.
Still collecting bricks for Spring Oven Project, and idears for a chicken coop for Spring as well. Hope all is well, PLEASE POST MORE CONTENT !
By cance have you tried any other vinegars? White vinegar and I aren’t friendly.
Have you ever tried this with smoked white fish