About the Author
Teresa Marrone is the author of several cookbooks, field guides, and regional books. She is very active in her local food scene and has written food-related profiles and features for a variety of magazines. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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The Land of 10,000 Lakes
Are there really 10,000 lakes in Minnesota?
Actually, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), our state has 11,842 lakes of at least 10 acres in size (the official dividing point between lake and not-lake) — but "Land of 11,842 Lakes" isn't such a catchy license-plate slogan.
Only 4 of Minnesota's 87 counties have no natural lakes. At 12 acres, Dickey's Lake in Hennepin County is the smallest official lake in the state; according to DNR data, it is populated mostly with bullheads. The largest lake that is wholly inside state borders is Red Lake, a walleye hot spot in Beltrami County; its two basins total almost 289,000 acres.
Minnesota shares majestic Lake Superior with Wisconsin, Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and Ontario; roughly one-quarter of its 20-plus million acres is considered Minnesota water. We also share Lake of the Woods with Ontario and Manitoba; the Minnesota portion of this 950,400-acre lake is in the so-called Northwest Angle, a small rectangular bump in northern Lake of the Woods County that was born from a mapmaker's error.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, on Minnesota's northeastern border with Ontario, contains more than 1,000 pristine lakes. This road-less, canoe-only area occupies over 1 million acres, and the paddler's paradise continues across the border into Quetico Provincial Park. Lake Vermilion, in St. Louis County, has the state's longest shoreline, listed at 290 miles by the DNR. We also have almost 70,000 miles of rivers and streams, including 589 miles of officially designated Wild and Scenic Rivers and 1,900 miles of trout streams.
Minnesotans love to fish, in open water or through the ice; sales of fishing licenses topped half a million in a recent year. Walleye is the official state fish, but trout, muskie, northern pike, bass, and panfish are eagerly sought by anglers, too. Minnesotans also love to eat fish; read on for some tasty ideas for your catch, whether you got it by hook and line or at the fish counter of your local market.
Backyard Fish Fry
A Minnesota lakeside tradition! Deep frying in the backyard means less mess in the kitchen — and no fried-fish odor in the house. Plan on 2 pounds of boneless, skinless fish fillets for every 4 or 5 guests. Crappies and other panfish, such as bluegills, sunnies, and perch, fry up quickly, so the fillets should be cooked whole (that is, 2 fillets per fish). Cut fillets of walleyes, bass, and northern pike into halves or thirds, depending on the size; pieces should be no larger than 3 inches long and no thicker than ½ inch. Rinse the fillets just before cooking, and blot with paper towels; they should be lightly damp when breaded. Coleslaw or other salad, baked beans, potato salad, and fresh fruit and vegetables are traditional accompaniments, along with plenty of cold beer or lemonade; corn on the cob is also welcome. Offer brownies or bars for dessert.
BREADING (ENOUGH FOR 5 TO 6 POUNDS OF FISH)
* 1 ½ cups cornmeal
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* 2 tablespoons paprika
* 2 ½ teaspoons salt
* ¾ teaspoon garlic powder
* ¾ teaspoon ground white pepper
* ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or other ground hot pepper, optional
* Vegetable oil, for deep frying
* Boneless, skinless crappie fillets or other fish fillets (see headnote)
1. Make the breading: Combine the cornmeal, flour, paprika, salt, garlic powder, white pepper, and cayenne, if desired, in a jar or lidded container. Seal tightly and shake to mix. The breading can be stored in a cool cupboard until needed; it will keep for several months.
2. Heat oil in a deep fryer to 350°F and line a dish with paper towels. Pour 1 cup of the breading into a plastic bag. Add as many fish pieces as you plan to cook per batch; a small fryer will hold three or four typical pieces, while a large one may hold up to 10. Shake the bag to coat the fish. Remove one at a time, shaking off excess breading, and carefully slip into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown and cooked through; very thin "potato-chip" sunfish fillets take about 2 minutes, while good-size crappie or perch fillets take 3 to 4 minutes. Thicker fillets from walleye or northern pike may take as long as 6 minutes. (For the first batch, fry just one piece and remove it after a few minutes, then check for doneness; once you've got the timing figured out for the type of fillets you have, you can cook more pieces at once.)
3. Transfer the cooked fish to the dish lined with paper towels, and let guests dig in as soon as you've got enough to get them started; the fish is best eaten right away. Return the oil to 350°F before adding the next batch.
Plank-Grilled Trout with Cucumber-Dill Sauce
Plank cooking is a technique borrowed from Native tribes in the Pacific Northwest, who cooked fresh fish on a slab of cedar wood. It's perfect for lake trout or a good-size steelhead trout, and also works well with salmon. The warm sauce is a wonderful complement to the grilled fish, which picks up a woodsy taste from the plank. Look for grilling planks at sporting-goods stores, gourmet stores, and large grocery stores; these days, you'll have your choice of not only cedar but also other woods, including maple and alder. Note: The grilling plank should be about ½ inch thick and large enough to hold the fillets. It has to soak for at least 4 hours before you can use it for cooking; plan accordingly.
* 1 quart cold water
* ¼ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
* ¼ cup coarse kosher salt
* 4 (5- to 6-ounce) boneless trout or salmon fillets, skin on or skinless
* 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
* 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
* 1 teaspoon lemon juice
* ½ cup dry white wine
* 2 tablespoons lemon juice
* 1 tablespoon heavy cream
* 1 shallot, minced
* 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, each cut into 16 pieces
* 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
* 1 tablespoon snipped fresh dill fronds
1. Make the fish: Soak the plank in clean water for 4 to 8 hours, weighting it to keep it submerged.
2. When you're ready to start preparation, make a brine by combining the cold water with the brown sugar and the salt in a mixing bowl, stirring until the sugar and salt dissolve. Place a 1-gallon plastic food storage bag in a baking dish. Add the fish fillets and the brine. Seal the bag and refrigerate for 25 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare a grill for direct high heat.
3. When the fish has brined for no more than 30 minutes, remove it from the brine and pat dry; discard the brine. Pat the plank dry and lightly coat the top with the oil. Arrange the fish fillets on the plank in a single layer, skin side down. Stir together the melted butter and lemon juice, then brush it over the fillets.
4. Place the plank on the grill grate directly over the fire. Cover the grill and cook until the fish is just opaque when probed at the thickest part, 15 to 20 minutes. The plank will smolder and may catch fire around the edges; that's okay, but if the fire looks too strong, spray it with water.
5. Meanwhile, make the sauce: Stir together the wine, lemon juice, cream, and shallot in a small saucepan. Cook over high heat until the mixture reduces and becomes slightly thick, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and whisk in the butter, a piece at a time. Remove from the heat and stir in the cucumber and dill. Serve warm with the fish.
Freshwater Fish Chowder
5 or 6 servings
This chowder doesn't use any cream or other dairy, which makes it taste lighter and fresher than other chowders and really allows the flavor of the fish to shine. The Yukon Gold potatoes remain firmer after cooking, while the russets tend to crumble into the broth. Choose whichever you like.
* 4 thick-cut bacon strips, chopped
* 1 yellow or white onion, diced
* 1 large or 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
* 1 celery stalk, diced
* 1 small shallot, minced
* ½ cup dry white wine
* ¾ pound russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
* 1 quart reduced-sodium chicken broth
* ½ teaspoon dried thyme
* ½ teaspoon salt
* ¼ teaspoon paprika (smoked paprika is very good here)
* ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
* 1 bay leaf
* ¾–1 pound boneless, skinless walleye, trout, eelpout, or other freshwater fish, cut into ¾-inch chunks
* Snipped fresh chives, for garnish
* Oyster crackers, for serving
* Hot pepper sauce, for serving
1. Cook the bacon in a 1-gallon soup pot over medium heat, stirring frequently, until crisp. Remove half of the bacon with a slotted spoon and set on a paper towel–lined plate; leave the remaining bacon in the pot. Spoon off all but about 1 tablespoon of the bacon drippings.
2. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and shallot. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Stir in the wine. Continue cooking until the wine has reduced by half, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the potatoes. Cook, stirring several times, until the pot is mostly dry, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the broth, thyme, salt, paprika, pepper, and bay leaf. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Use a potato masher to partially mash about one-half of the vegetables.
3. Add the fish chunks. Cook, stirring several times, until the fish just begins to flake, about 5 minutes. Ladle into heated soup bowls or wide, shallow soup plates. Garnish with the reserved bacon and the chives. Serve with oyster crackers and hot sauce.
Fish Fillets on Garlic Toast with Vegetables and Saffron Broth
Attractive, tasty, and simple, this dish is perfect for an intimate supper for two as well as a casual weekday meal. The perfect fish for this is a walleye fillet that weighs 8 to 10 ounces; simply cut it in half for two portions. If you are using smaller fillets, such as those from perch or crappie, make a single serving by arranging two fillets so the rib portions overlap.
* 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
* 2/3 cup diced onion
* ½ cup diced carrot
* ½ cup diced fennel bulb
* 1 ¼ cups diced fresh tomatoes (peeled and seeded before dicing), or 1 cup drained canned diced tomatoes
* 1 cup Chardonnay or other dry white wine
* ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
* ¼ teaspoon crumbled dried oregano
* 2 garlic cloves
* 1 ¾ cups chicken broth
* 6–8 saffron threads
* 2 slices firm Italian bread, about 3 by 4 inches and ¾ inch thick
* 8–10 ounces boneless, skinless walleye or other fish fillets (see headnote)
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and fennel. Reduce the heat to medium-low and sauté the vegetables for about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, wine, thyme, and oregano. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is saucy but not soupy, about 15 minutes. Cover the skillet and reduce the heat; simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, mince one garlic clove. Combine the minced garlic and broth in a small saucepan; crumble the saffron threads into the broth. Bring the broth to a boil, and boil until reduced by half, 7 to 10 minutes. Set aside and keep warm. While the broth is cooking, place the bread slices on a baking sheet. Bake until crispy and lightly brown, about 10 minutes total, turning once midway through. Halve the remaining garlic clove and rub the bread on both sides with the garlic halves, then place each piece of bread in a wide, shallow, oven-safe soup plate.
3. When the vegetables are tender, sprinkle the fish generously with salt and pepper. Place the fish in the skillet with the vegetables, and spoon some of the vegetables over the fish. Cover the skillet and simmer until the fish is just opaque, 5 to 10 minutes.
4. When the fish is just opaque, spoon some of the vegetables evenly over the bread. Use a spatula to place individual portions of fish carefully on top of the vegetable-topped bread. Divide the remaining vegetables evenly over the fish. Sprinkle with the cheese. Place the soup plates on a baking sheet. Bake until the cheese is melted and beginning to bubble, 4 to 6 minutes.
5. As soon as the cheese has melted, place the soup plates on heatproof mats on the table. Ladle the hot broth evenly around the sides of the bread. Be aware that the bowls are very hot.
Wood-Grilled Stream Trout
Using actual wood in your charcoal grill (rather than charcoal briquettes) allows you to bring the taste of the campfire home. You will need about 2 quarts of smoking-wood chunks (or dry hardwood or fruitwood chunks) ranging from golf ball size to baseball size, some newspaper to start the fire, two inexpensive 10- by 14-inch metal cake-cooling racks (buy cheap ones made of thinner bars, which allow the racks to flex enough to be wired together on the edges without crushing the fish), and a handful of twist ties from a box of plastic sandwich bags.
* 2 (½- to ¾-pound) whole dressed rainbow or other stream trout, rinsed and patted dry
* 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 4 sprigs parsley
* 2 multibranched sprigs thyme
* 2 sprigs dill (fronds, not seed heads)
1. Cut three slashes in the thicker meat on both sides of each fish, perpendicular to the spine, cutting down just until you encounter the spine. Rub the fish inside and out with the oil. Sprinkle inside and out with salt and pepper, also sprinkling some into the slashes. Stuff two sprigs parsley and one sprig each thyme and dill into the body cavity of each fish. Place the fish in a dish; cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.
2. When you're ready to start cooking, crumple some sheets of newspaper and place them on the coal grate of a charcoal grill. Pile the wood chunks on top in a pyramid. Light the newspaper and let the pile burn until the wood pieces are flaming and beginning to burn down. Spread the wood out slightly and add the cooking grate. Cover the grill, keeping the vents in the lid about halfway open, and let burn until the wood is lightly ashed and no longer flaming, 5 to 10 minutes longer.
5. 3. Meanwhile, place the fish back to back on a metal cake-cooling rack, about 1 inch apart. Place a second rack over the fish. Wire the edges together tightly along the sides and ends with wire twist ties, twisting the ties tightly enough to pull the racks together and secure the fish.
4. Place the rack assembly with the fish on the cooking grate, directly over the coals. Cover the grill and cook for 5 minutes. Carefully flip the rack assembly and re-cover the grill. Cook until the fish is flaky at the thickest part, 4 to 6 minutes longer. Transfer the rack assembly to a baking sheet and cover loosely with foil. Let stand for about 5 minutes. Cut the twist ties and open up the racks. Transfer the fish to individual plates. Serve at once, warning diners to be aware of the bones in the whole fish.
Note: To serve four, use another rack setup and rotate the two racks over the hot part of the fire, increasing the cooking time slightly to compensate. If you want to try this with a larger fish or with fillets, plan on about 10 minutes cooking time per inch of thickness.
Excerpted from "Dishing Up Minnesota"
Copyright © 2016 Teresa Marrone.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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