Northern Fish Tacos: Tacos for All Fish, but Great with Pike!
One of the great bones of contention (pun intended) in freshwater fish consumption is whether Northern Pike should be eaten or used as garden fertilizer. In Iowa and Missouri, where Northern Pike are scarce, fishermen tend to prize the meat. I’ve heard Iowans declare that pike is better than walleye! In Minnesota, where fishermen usually know that a walleye is a kind of pike, one is more likely to disparage these beasts as bony and refer to them as “jackfish”, “snakes”, and “hammer handles.”
I approach this debate with caution because I’ve been a resident of all three states. But I cannot deny the following: Northerns terrify me. When I catch them, I am often deep in the wilderness in my canoe. To extract an oversized treble hook from their thrashing, razor-tooth filled mouths, I often need to hoist them to a position of stability in the canoe between my legs, where the thrashing and biting can have any number of unforeseen consequences. Imagine prying a deeply-embedded treble hook from your own quivering thighs with pliers. This has happened more than once to me—and after releasing that last 41-incher, I swore in blood that I’d never try it again. But I’ll probably be back at it in the spring; such is our addiction.
Northern Pike can taste fishy to some people and delicious to others. There are good ways to prepare them and bad ways to prepare them, and most recipes rely on lemon juice to counteract the fishiness. Below, I propose a recipe for Northern Pike Tacos that eliminates virtually any fishy flavor from the pike and produces a tortilla-filled delicacy. Note that this recipe is delicious with ANY kind of fish. Try it with bass, bluegill, or halibut! And be sure to serve it with fresh salsa; that will push it over the edge.
1 lb of northern pike or flakey-fleshed fish (lake trout, walleye, or even halibut), filleted
1.5 cups of spinach, cut into long thin strips
1 cup of your favorite salsa (I like to make homemade, fresh salsa with a couple of chopped tomatoes, several cloves of pressed garlic, a touch of lime juice, and sea salt)
1 cup of grated cheese (jack works well)
6 tortillas, warmed immediately prior to serving
3.5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium-sized Vidalia or sweet onion, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
4 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1.5 tablespoons water
1.5 teaspoons maple syrup (or honey)
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (or parsley)
In a large large nonstick skillet, heat 1.5 tablespoons of the olive oil until water dances. Sauté the fish approximately 3 minutes on the first side. Flip and sauté it on the second side approximately 3 minutes. Depending on the thickness, you may repeat this process for a minute per side until the fish feels firm and cooked all the way through. Remove from heat and allow it to cool for several minutes. Peel the meat apart (following the natural fissures) into small bite-sized pieces, carefully removing any bones. (With northern pike, it is especially important to remove the numerous Y-bones. This process will take 4-5 minutes, but it is well worth it.)
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the lime juice, chili powder, cumin, oregano, garlic, water, maple syrup, salt and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil together and set aside.
In large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the onions. Sauté for 2-3 minutes until the onions turn golden. Add the lime juice/spice mixture from the bowl, and stir for a minute or so. Reduce heat to low. Add the de-boned fish and cilantro (or parsley) and gently stir so as to evenly coat the fish pieces. (If the lime juice/spice mixture is too thick, add another tablespoon of water to facilitate mixing.)
Spread a small handful of spinach on top of each warmed tortilla. Spoon two tablespoons of salsa on top of the spinach. Sprinkle fish generously on top of the salsa. Garnish with shredded cheese.
Makes 6 Tacos
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