Category Archives: Fish Recipes

How To Filet Fish

I love to catch fish – I never met one I didn’t want to catch – but I like to eat them, too. I know those fanatical about catch and release will be upset, but I believe in catch and hot grease, too, even for bass. I keep a lot of the spots I catch, especially in area lakes where they are not native and cause problems, and cook them just about every week. I have many good recipes for fish.

When I filet fish getting ready usually takes more time than the fileting. I like to leave fish on ice overnight before fileting them. When I am ready to go to work, I get my filet board – a 2×8 about three feet long, and put it on top of a big trash can so it will be about waist height. I hone my big filet knife with a steel so it is very sharp. Some folks like an electric knife and some are good with it, and I use one if I am fileting a lot of fih. But since I usually filet five or fewer fish, I like my regular knife. It is slower but more precise. And I take a bowl big enough to hold the filets with me and set it nearby.

Start just below the gills and slice through the belly past one side of the anal fin

Start just below the gills and slice through the belly past one side of the anal fin

I lay the fish down with the belly facing me and stick the knife point in the middle just below the gills, and make a slice through the middle of the belly past one side of the anal fin. This makes the first filet cut better.
Slice past the anal fin on one side

Slice past the anal fin on one side

I then turn the fish so its back is toward me and cut straight down from the slice in the belly to the top of the fish. Cut as far forward as possible to get the most meat.

Cut to the backbone

Cut to the backbone

Turn the knife blade parallel to the backbone and cut the filet off, from the head to the tail. If you want a skinless filet, which I do, don’t cut through the skin at the tail. If you want a skin on filet you need to scale the fish before starting to filet it.

Slice along backbone to tail but don't cut through the skin at the tail

Slice along backbone to tail but don’t cut through the skin at the tail

Flip the filet over, place it flat on the board, and slice along the skin between the skin and meat in the opposite direction. You can make this slice if you cut through the skin at the tail but it is easier to hold if it is still attached. Keep the knife blade at a slight downward angle.

Slice from the tail to head between meat and skin

Slice from the tail to head between meat and skin

I cut the ribs out since I want a boneless filet. Unless I am planning on making fish chowder I throw them away since there is very little meat on them.

Cut out the rib cage, keeping your knife at an angle to get as much meat as possible

Cut out the rib cage, keeping your knife at an angle to get as much meat as possible

Flip the fish over and repeat the process

Flip the fish over and repeat the process on the other side

Flip the fish over and repeat the process on the other side

When done right, there is almost no meat left on the backbone. I throw it away unless I am making fish chowder. If I plan to make my Mahatten style chowder I cut the backbone at the head and tail and save it with the rib cages.

 When done right very little meat is left on the bones

When done right very little meat is left on the bones

Wash the filets getting all blood off. Feel along the edges, especially along the top where the dorsal fin was attached, to make sure there are no small bones left.

This may sound complicated, but with a little practice it is quick and efficient. I can filet a bass, from first cut to finish, in less than two minutes, and have a bowl of delicious boneless, skinlessw filets.

End results - a bowl of boneless, skinless filets ready to cook

End results – a bowl of boneless, skinless filets ready to cook

Eating Strange Wild Critters

Tree Rats

Fried squirrel. Squirrel stew. BBQ squirrel. Squirrel and dumplings. Baked squirrel. Squirrel enchiladas. Squirrel chill. Squirrel cacciatore. Squirrel fricassee. Just how many ways are there to cook tree rats?

All the above recipes can be found on the internet, and I have tried many of them. But the best squirrel I ever ate was way back in the woods by Germany Creek. Joe and I had been camping for four days and had been eating nothing but the C-rations he brought and some loaf bread and peanut butter and jelly I supplied.

I had my .22 along for snake control and decided to shoot a squirrel one afternoon. We boiled that critter in my mess kit pot in creek water. No salt, no seasoning, no nothing added. But the meat was the first solid meat we had had, and when that juice was sopped up with the bread it was fantastic.

I was 16 at he time and had been eating squirrel all my life. Back in the late 1950s and early 60s when I was growing up, it was a rite of passage for boys to go squirrel hunting. From the time I was eight years old I was roaming the fall woods looking for targets in the trees for my .22 or .410. And I killed a bunch of them.
It was an unbreakable rule we ate everything we killed back then, so I had to skin and gut the squirrels when I got home and mom would cook them up the next day, after soaking them overnight in saltwater in the refrigerator. And she could cook them in several ways.

One of my favorite meals was fried squirrel with gravy, served over hot homemade biscuits.
She cooked chicken the same way and both were good. And the whole family ate the squirrels, with no complaining. We were just happy to have lots to eat.

I still kill a lot of squirrels and eat them each fall and winter. They gnawed into my attic so I keep a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with #6 shot by the door and shoot every one I see. I would rather shoot them with my .22 but there are just too many houses around for it.

Recently I smoked a squirrel and it was delicious! I put it in the smoker with lots of hickory for a couple of hours and the smoky flavor was great. I ate it as a snack rather than a meal because it was so good I ate the whole thing when “sampling” it!

I don’t really like cleaning them but it is pretty easy. When I was a kid pulling the skin off was a chore, and as I get older it seems to be getting harder again. But so far it is not too much trouble to be worth it.

One critter I ate was very good, but I will never try to skin one again. I shot a beaver in one of my ponds several years ago and decided to eat it. I didn’t think I would ever get it skinned. I had to cut off every tiny bit of the skin, there was no pulling it off. Starting at the lower legs I slowly trimmed between the meat and skin until I got the back half done. At that point I decided the front part didn’t have enough meat to mess with.

That was the reddest meat I have ever seen. I boiled it first, then floured and sautéed it in olive oil. Then I put it in a pan with potatoes, onions and carrots and baked it. It tasted just like a beef pot roast to me. From now own, since I can say I ate a beaver, I will buy a beef pot roast!

Gar also are tasty but very hard to skin. You can’t scale them, their scales are like armor plating. I was shown how to use tin snips and cut up the back, then peel the skin and scales to the side and cut out the meat down the backbone. It is tedious, hard work.

The meat sautéed in butter tastes like Florida lobster to me, kinds of chewy a little with some slight smoky fish flavor. But I found an easier way to cook them. I cut one gar into foot long chunks with a hack saw after gutting it then put it on the grill.

When it was cooked the skin and scales peeled off easily and the meat was even better! From now on, that is how I will cook them. If you run trotlines, jugs or bank hooks with live bait you will catch a bunch of them and you can also shoot them with a bow!

Give some unusual critter a try. You might find it tasty!

How To Make A New England Style Fish Stew

I tried a new fish stew recipe last weekend that is mighty good on these cold, rainy fall days. If you like New England style chowder, you will like this fish stew.

Brown a couple of strips of bacon in a pot. Remove the bacon and cook a large chopped onion in the grease until clear. Add three cups of chopped potatoes and the crumbled up bacon, cover with water and cook for about 15 minutes. Add two pounds of bass or crappie filets cut into chunks, half a stick of butter, salt and pepper and cook until the fish and potatoes are done. Add 16 ounces of evaporated milk and stir until hot.

Like all fish and stew, this is even better fixed ahead and warmed back up. Add a chopped stick of celery and a carrot for more flavor. Since I am allergic to milk, I used rice milk rather than evaporated milk. It is not as rich and good, but I like the added sweetness and rice flavor. You can use frozen hash browns for the chopped potatoes.

If you catch some hybrids, they will be too strong for this mild chowder. Bass or crappie are much better. Strong oily fish like hybrids are better in tomato based stews.

Eating Your Catch of Fish

Eating local as easy as filleting your day’s catch

By Kevin Kelly
1-800-858-1549, ext. 4414
from The Fishing Wire

(This article, from Kentucky Afield Outdoors, is part of their Spring Fishing Frenzy Series. It offers some good tips on handling fish to be eaten, whether you’re catching crappies in Kentucky, flounder in Florida or salmon on the Pacific Coast.)

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Local food sources and sustainable food options are of increasing importance to today’s health-conscious consumers.

Kentucky offers anglers an abundance of fishable water with some of the best tasting fish nature has to offer, and a good day can provide a bounty for the dinner table and freezer for far less than you’re likely to pay in a supermarket or restaurant.

“Back in the 1970s and ’80s the majority of people went fishing and ate what they caught,” said Ryan Oster, fisheries program coordinator with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We’ve swung so far to the opposite end of the pendulum nowadays that there are some fisheries out there that could probably benefit from people starting to harvest more of the fish that they’re catching.”

A low-fat source of protein rich in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, fresh fish tastes even better when you are the one who caught, filleted and cooked it. But, the prospect of cleaning that catch can be intimidating for novice and experienced anglers alike.

You can filet your catch for good eating.

You can filet your catch for good eating.

Learning how to properly fillet a fish requires following a few simple steps that apply to most species of game fish in Kentucky. With some practice, and a little patience, perfect fillets can be had in no time, every time.

The process starts with proper care of the fish immediately after it’s been landed.

“If you’re going to keep fish to eat, really the best thing to do with a fish once you catch it is not put it on a stringer and let it dangle in the water,” Oster said. “Put it on ice right off the bat to help preserve the quality of the meat immediately.

“When you put fish on a stringer, that’s a real stressful event for a fish, and when you stress a fish you can really start to deteriorate the quality of the meat.”

Once you’re ready to fillet the fish, give it a quick rinse to remove excess slime and any dirt. Donning rubber gloves will improve your grip on the fish and cut down on the fish smell left on your hands.

A sharp-bladed fillet knife is a must, but it doesn’t have to cost a small fortune. A good one can be had for around $15 from catalog outfitters.

“A lot of people that I show how to fillet fish their first comment is, ‘Give me a dull knife because I don’t want to cut my finger off,'” Oster said. “That’s actually the worst knife you could have. A sharp knife makes the entire process of filleting a quick and easy process. With a really sharp knife all you have to do is put gentle pressure on it and the blade should cut through fish bone like butter.”

A 3-1/2 inch blade works well on bluegill, crappie and redear while larger blades in the 6-7 inch range are good for catfish, bass and walleye, Oster said.

To begin the filleting process, place the fish on its side on a firm, flat surface. Wood boards work well.

Securing the head with your free hand, make a cut behind the gill plate and pectoral fin from the top of the fish to the belly. People who consider themselves a novice should always remember to keep the knife blade pointed away from their body during the entire filleting process. Never turn the blade so that it is facing you. This helps ensure safety during the entire process.

Continue cutting into the flesh until the knife blade touches the backbone. Once it does, turn the knife 90 degrees so that the blade lies flat against the fish’s backbone, facing toward the fish’s tail. Cut through the ribs using the backbone as a guide but don’t cut all the way through to the tail. Leave 1-inch or so intact.

Next, flip the fillet over skin side down and work the blade into the fillet near the tail until the blade is between the fillet and the skin. Separate the skin from the meat by sliding the knife forward. Remove the rib cage from the skinless fillet and you’re done.

Repeat the process on the other side of the fish and discard the carcass and skin. Rinse the fillets in cold, clean water and keep the meat cool until ready to prepare. If you’re not going to cook the fish until the following day, Oster recommends storing the fillets in a plastic bag with water and a little salt added to it.

It’s best to freeze any fish that isn’t going to be used in two or three days. Some recommend quick freezing the fish by placing it uncovered on a sheet of aluminum foil in the freezer. Or you can simply place the fillets in a plastic freezer bag, fill it with water, seal and freeze to protect the meat from freezer burn.

A freezer full of fish means fresh never goes out of season. Remember, your 2013 fishing license expires at the end of this month, so buy your 2014 fishing license soon.

Kevin Kelly is a writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. An avid angler with a passion for muskellunge and stream fishing, his journalism career has included stops at daily newspapers in Cincinnati, Ohio, St. Petersburg, Fla. and Charleston, S.C.

Cold Weather Fishing Clothes and Fish Stew To Warm You

I caught this bass after a bad cold front

I caught this bass after a bad cold front

Sometimes when I say I am going fishing this time of year folks just shake their head. They think it is way too cold to go fishing and that you will be miserable out on the water. And you will be, if you don’t dress for it.

For a normal January day I will start with insulated underwear – what we used to call “long Johns.” New material is light-weight and very warm, and it will wick away any sweat so you don’t feel wet and clammy. Thin socks of similar material help keep feet warm and dry.

My next layer is a soft flannel or modern material long sleeve shirt and flannel lined jeans. Several brands make flannel lined jeans and you can order some from ads in magazines that are not expensive but are very warm. I top the thin sox with wool sox.

My fishing jacket is a baseball type lined jacket with a hood. It is water resistant and very warm, and the hood is great. I put on my baseball cap so I will have a bill to shade my eyes, pull a stocking cap on over it down over my ears, then pull up the hood. That keeps head, neck and ears warm.

If the day is real cold I wear insulated boots. If it is not too cold I go with walking shoes but try to make sure they are loose on my feet. If they are tight, especially with heavy sox, it cuts off circulation and actually makes your feet colder.

That is plenty if the temperatures range from the 30s to the 50s like it does most days. On really cold days I pull on a snowmobile suit over everything else and will put two to four chemical handwarmers in inside pockets. It is amazing how much heat those things put out.

If it is ridiculously cold, in the teens, I have Gortex insulated Cabelas Guidewear. These suits zip and snap up and with bibs and the coat you are covered from head to foot. The hood has a flap that snaps across your chin and mouth, covering it. For long runs I add a face shield and heavy gloves so no wind hits me anywhere.

I have fished in temperatures as low as 11 degrees and have been comfortable. My hands get cold, though. I have tried all kinds of gloves but none allow me to cast and feel the fish like I want so I always fish bare-handed. It helps to switch from a bait casting reel to a spinning reel. For some reason opposite hands get cold with the different reels so switching helps warm one. And one of the handwarmers in both side pockets allows me to stick one hand in there and warm it for a few seconds.

Dress right and you can be comfortable while catching fish, even on the coldest day.

When I get home on a cold day I love some kind of fish stew to warm me even more. One of my favorites is s spicy red Manhattan style stew I make with bass. It is fairly simple. Boil about five skinned and gutted bass in enough water to cover them with a bay leaf. Let it set to cool. Fry up three strips of bacon then brown a chopped up onion in the grease. Drain the fish broth through a strainer and put it back into the pot, then pull all the meat off the bones and add it back to the broth.

Crumble up the bacon and add it and the onion to the stew. Put in a can or two of chopped tomatoes. I like the ones with chili peppers in them. Add salt and pepper and let it simmer for 30 minutes. For a heartier stew add rice or diced potatoes. I also add a good bit of Crazy Jerry’s hot sauce – I like it and its motto is “A Lot Hot” but you can add any kind you prefer.

Serve a big bowl with saltines and this stew will warm you inside and out.

Another favorite stew is a white or New England style fish stew. For this one I just use bass filets – no bones to make a broth since it is much milder. Chop up an onion and sauté it in butter. Put a half-gallon of milk, more for more stew, and real milk makes a richer stew, on and simmer it. Add the onion, a stick of butter, salt and pepper to the milk. Cut up the filets into bite-size pieces, and simmer until done. You can add rice or diced potatoes to this one, too.

I really like this with saltines or oyster crackers. You can make it as rich as you want by adding more or less butter and using regular or skim milk. For me, the richer the better.

I’m hungry – gotta go cook some fish stew!

Cooking Roots

Talk about cooking roots and most southerners think turnips, potatoes and carrots. But it makes me think of other roots, going back to learning to cook from my mother and the cooking traditions passed on from parents to children generation after generation.

My mother was a fantastic cook and baked cakes for sale for many years. Since we had chickens and cows milk and eggs were easy to get. She taught me a lot about baking and always rewarded me with beaters and bowls to lick. There was no worry about eating raw eggs in those days.

I learned the basics from seasoning all vegetables with fatback and cooking them forever to pouring the salt in all kinds of sauces. Mamma could take a package of cheap hotdogs, add chopped onion, bell pepper and BBQ sauce and make a dinner as good as anything I ever ate. Another of my favorites was egg casserole, made by layering stale crumbled up biscuits and bread with sliced boiled eggs and covering it all with milk and baking it. The real butter dotted on each layer helped! We never wasted anything. Leftovers were eaten as is or mixed with other ingredients to make a completely new meal.

I leaned to fry fish from my dad. He loved to fry up a big mess of crappie, bass and bream for family and friends. He and a family friend made fish cookers with wheel hubs, pipe and rebar. I used mine for many years and it seemed to do a better job than any of the commercial cookers I have tried. Dad knew exactly when to take the fish out so they were golden brown but still moist and delicious.

One thing I never got right were the hushpuppies. Mamma mixed them up and dad dropped them one at a time into the hot grease, using two spoons and dipping one in water between each hushpuppy. I can cook them but have never been able to get the ingredients exactly right.

I asked my mom to write down the recipes for me and she tried, but many have instructions like “add some pepper till it tastes right.” I can usually make a good stab at things she wrote for me but, unfortunately, soon after she started recording them for me on index cards she developed Alzheimer’s and many of my favorites were never recorded.

I also learned from aunts and uncles. My uncle Adron could kill game like the best of the pioneers and his wife Nancy could cook anything. I often thought if he brought in an old boot she would make a great meal out of it. I especially loved their catfish stew. They both worked grinding the catfish and adding the ingredients until just right, then Uncle Adron would cook it in a big pot outside over an open fire.

I am afraid a lot of the southern cooking traditions are being lost. It seems we don’t have time to cook a meal and kids would rather be playing video games than learning cooking roots. And fast food has replaced so much of our cooking that little will ever be the same. Some of it is good but nothing will ever taste as good as something you picked or killed, cleaned and cooked yourself.

Don’t let your cooking roots die. Learn them now before it is too late.