Of fish eggs & the delicate delight of eating perch: Joy from Chicago lakefront
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The inimitable Oscar Santos asked on Facebook while cleaning perch, “Sooooo I hear this is edible. Perch eggs. I read on here some of you eat this. How would I prepare it?”
With the plethora of perch on the Chicago lakefront, eating is good.
The question by Santos, the best-known kayak fisherman on the Chicago lakefront (this time he was shore fishing), pulled up memories.
When my younger brother and I were little, we would bring back small creek chubs, bluegill and sunfish. We had to scale and clean them, then Mom would roll them in flour and fry in butter (well, margarine). If we found fish eggs, she saved them to the end, then quick fried them.
When I was older and cooking fish and wild game mattered more, I adapted her methods. I quick fry any fish eggs as butter starts to brown. I have found fried fish eggs need more salt than most food does.
As my cooking evolved, I learned a fish-egg omelet. I sweat chopped green onions before frying fish eggs, then add a couple beaten eggs, A variation is adding chives with the beaten eggs.
On the other hand, preparing perch should be subtle. Perch are not catfish or redfish, which you can blacken, over season or do any damm fool thing. Perch need tenderness.
So I was surprised when Santos suggested a chowder with sausage. To my thinking sausage or bacon are Mutt and Jeff pairings with perch, unbalanced.
Because of its delicate nature, perch should be done simply. Broil or pan fry in butter, then season with salt and pepper. Batter-dipped or rolled in bread crumbs works, too.
Years ago, I think it was Capt. Mike “Oakie” Okoniewski, who suggested perch as an appetizer. Add broken or small fillets, very briefly, to boiling salted water. Then dip, hot or cooled, into garlic butter or cocktail sauce. To me, even that is too stern of a pairing, though it worked OK the times I tried it.
One trick I learned from the defunct Phil Smidt’s was to scale the perch and leave the skin on for added flavor, then parboil before filleting to infuse some bone flavor. It’s more work but worth it. Sometimes, I even prepare with the bone-in, especially with smaller winter perch.
On Monday, after I photographed my bone-in perch plate, our daughter pilfered it. In a minute or so, she plundered the perch, presented on rice garnished with my own December-cut, organic home-grown spinach.
PASSES UPDATE: Carl Vizzone, program and event coordinator, fishing, for the Chicago Park District, emailed that parking and pier passes are now available at Northerly Island (10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday) in addition to Henry’s Sports and Bait. At Northerly Island, a fishing license presented (and a driver’s license for the parking pass) and it is credit card only.
ILLINOIS HUNTING: Weather looks normal winter for muzzleloader-only deer season, which is Friday through Sunday. Harvest numbers for firearm deer season (second season ended Sunday) will be posted when they arrive at chicago.suntimes.com/section/outdoors/.
* Last week was the best at Wolf Lake with 26 ducks and five geese harvested, according to wildlife biologist Nicky Strahl.
SHOWTIME: The National Marine Manufacturers Association should breathe easier. Looks unlikely the Bears will host a divisional game at Soldier Field the second weekend of January when “The Boat Show” is at McCormick Place. Click here for the list of winter shows, classes and swap meets.
STRAY CAST: ‘XRT’s “Friday Feature” made me wonder if content in the Stones’ discography outnumbers winter-run perch on the Chicago lakefront.