“Well that won’t do us any good,” I overheard my dad saying last week into his phone, “Molly won’t be here then to cook it for us!”
That comment may make him sound like an opportunistic slave-driver, but it really was very sweet. He and a friend were making plans to hire a guide to take them fishing for walleye pike on a neighboring lake that actually has more then two or three of the coveted lake fish. They are experienced and avid fishermen who were looking to mix things up a bit from the bass and northern pikes they catch-and-release on our lake all the time. Plus, walleyes are known for being awfully tasty.
They came back with plenty of walleye. We invited seven people to dinner. Beforehand, my dad and I took a swim while Ernest fished off the dock. We were quite aways away when we heard a shriek. We saw my mom helping Ernest hold up the line with a really rather large fish on the end. We clapped our hands as we tred water and then headed back to see the prize.
It was a three-pound bass. It had pretty completely swallowed the lure. My dad removed the fish from the line as gently as he could. He moved the fish forward through a water a few times to give it a chance. He let it go and it tilted to its side. He grabbed it and coaxed it forward again. He let go and the fish started to float. No chance. He pulled it from the water and, luckily, I had been planning to take pictures of Ernest fishing and my camera was on the dock:
He and Ernest headed to the other dock and my dad showed my son how to clean a fish:
He gutted it and filleted it and rinsed it in clear lake water and handed me the fillets to add to our dinner.
And I was there to cook it and so I did the best thing I know of to do with delicate lake fish fillets: I pan-fried them. Sure, deep-frying works too, but the control and bit of moisture and cracker-crumb or cornmeal crust you can add so effectively – not to mention the lack of a giant vat of hot oil – makes pan-frying ever-so-much-more appealing.
Before you pan-fry, however, you must coat the fish with something to protect its delicate flesh from the heat. I did a triple-dip of flour, and then egg, and then cornmeal.
I worked up a guide to How to Pan-Fry Fish, with step-by-step photos taken on the cabin kitchen counter with my tri-pod set up quite precariously in the sink. Most people would then pan-fry on the stove, or, if camping, over a fire. We took a large cast iron pan and put it on a hot charcoal grill because who wants to wipe down the entire kitchen? We had everyone get their plates, grab a chair on the deck near the grill, and take the fillets as they came out of the pan.
I kept the bass separate so Ernest would be able to taste the fish he caught. We each had at least a bite and agreed: Walleye may be venerated state-wide, but the bass was tastier.