Pairing lakefront perch fishing with good eats and good drinks
The wonderful winter perch fishing on the Chicago lakefront makes for some wonderful food preparations and pairings with drinks.
Yellow perch are damn good eating.
That’s what draws thousands to the Chicago lakefront in winter when perch are in.
Perch are versatile enough for basic preparations paired with American-style lagers or an inexpensive chardonnay, but are also worthy of artful plating and good wine. Rachael Lowe, former sommelier at Spiaggia now national director of beverage at Levy, kindly gave three suggestions for wine pairing.
For myself and my health, I broil perch. For the family, I do a beer batter, then deep fry.
I scale perch before filleting. The skin and extra meat are worth it.
That’s the only advantage I have over great lakefront angler Quinn Wunar and his dedication to catching, cleaning, preparing and serving perch.
“If I didn’t live in a high rise, I’d leave the skin on,” he tweeted. “However, my perching days/life would be over if my wife found scales everywhere.”
He knows the essence, noting, “To be able to cook something I catch is almost as fun as catching them.”
Here is his step-by-step approach.
“First thing I do is make sure the perch are chilled before I start cleaning them,” he tweeted.
Now, no problem. In summer, he refrigerates them a few hours before cleaning.
“Before I start to fillet, to ensure steady surgeon-like hands, I pour a healthy amount of Kentucky’s finest into a rocks glass with two cubes,” he started. “Medicinal beverage prepared, I begin the cleaning process which, if you enjoy fishing, isn’t a chore if you’re doing it right.”
He puts cleaned fillets in ice water with a pinch of salt to keep them firm and remove any leftover blood.
His first preparation is for perch as a stand-alone serving or main dish.
He rolls fillets in flour seasoned with any Cajun seasoning blend, dips in egg wash, then rolls in crushed Ritz crackers before frying in peanut oil.
“Can’t go wrong choosing a vinegar based side like a cabbage slaw or even kimchi, if you want to go for the wow factor with guests,” he tweeted.
His second preparation stands up better for po’ boys or tacos. He dips fillets in a wash of Frank’s Red Hot and egg, then into corn meal before frying in peanut oil.
“Regardless of how I prepare it, I’ve never had a complaint when serving perch,” he tweeted. “Even amongst friends or family who aren’t seafood fans or have that weird built in fear of eating from the lake, perch is always a hit.”
His preparations sound worthy of wine recommendations by Lowe, who tried to keep the price reasonable.
Her first recommendation—Raventós I Blanc, Brut, Cava Riserva, Penedès, Spain NV—is for pairing with battered fillets. “[This sparkling] wine displays aromas of golden apple, bosc pear, a hint of toasted bread and hazelnut. The bubbles and structure of the wine cut through the rich batter of the fish while also complimenting the delicate nature of the flesh.”
Her second recommendation—Punta Crena, Pigato, Liguria, Italy—goes with broiled perch. “Notes of lime pith, Granny Smith apple, sea salt and green almond match beautifully with the texture of the perch and simplicity of the dish.”
Her third recommendation—Les Clos du Caillou, Côtes du Rhône Blanc, Rhône Valley, France—goes with battered perch. “This wine shows notes that lean more tropical in nature, with aromas of under-ripe mango, papaya, beeswax and orange rind. The initial rich texture mirrors the richness of the fired batter, while still standing up well and cutting through the texture of the dish.”
Some days, I savor my job too much.