Sep 26, 2012

I Ate Squaw (and liked it)

Considered a "trash" fish, the Northern Pikeminnow is treated with extreme prejudice by sport fisherman in Oregon.  Previously called Squawfish, they're are often killed and thrown back into the river when landed by anglers hoping to hook a salmon or steelhead.  The practice is supported by the state's department of fish and wildlife - with a bounty on them in the Columbia river basin of up to eight dollars per fish!  This Dudette does not abide.  The Pikeminnow is not an invasive species - it is native to Oregon waters and is a natural predator of young salmon.   Not only do I sense irrational management of our fisheries and lack of respect for wildlife in the policy, but that kind of thinking grates against the values I grew up with.  Namely, that my mother taught my brothers and I that if you purposely KILL an animal, then you EAT that animal.   

So I resolved eat the three pound Pikeminnow I caught while fishing for steelhead on the Rogue river with my dad last week.    I've heard that Squawfish taste bad - whatever that means.  I've heard they're oily.  I've heard they're too bony.  I suspected the fish would taste fine.  I mean, how could a fish that lives in the same waters we eat trout and salmon from - and that eats trout and salmon itself - taste too bad?  I decided I'd cook half the fish the way I do other white fleshed freshwater fish I enjoy -  filleted and dusted with flour, salt and pepper, then lightly fried.  The other half of the fish I would smoke and pressure can along with the steelhead I caught on the Rogue.

        


As it turns out, fresh fried Pikeminnow tastes great.  I found the flesh similar to the Chain Pickerel we catch in upstate New York, which are indeed bony, but delicious - very white, tender and flakey with what I'd describe as sweet meat.  As in, mild and not particularly fishy.

There was something unusual about the dark meat along the lateral line in the Pikeminnow -  I gathered up a big fork full - way more than you'd get in a normal bite.  I thought it tasted a little like…hmm…liver!  Personally, I love liver, but I can see how such an unexpected flavor in a fish may have given it a bad name.  But most people avoid that little strip of dark meat anyway, because it tastes less than delicious in many species of fish and contains a higher concentration of pollution that the light meat.   

As for the boniness of the Pikeminnow, the rib bones are much sturdier than they would be in a similar sized trout, so that if your filleting technique is to cut across those bones then remove them from the fillet, well, you'd dull your knife.  I generally fillet by cutting the flesh away from the rib cage, leaving those bones behind on the carcass, so that wasn't an issue.  What about pin bones?  There are definitely more pin bones in the Pikeminnow.  Whereas in trout and salmon, a single row of pin bones doesn't extend much beyond the rib cage, in the Pikeminnow there are "Y" bones that radiate all the way down to the tail.  So yeah, it's a pretty bony fish.  But if I can sit at the table meticulously cracking every last leg section of a crab to get a few bits of meat, I think I can deal with the occasional bony fish on my dinner plate.  Actually, I hope I catch another big Squawfish so I can try this technique (Hank Shaw on Honegiri technique for bony fish).

The smoked half of the Squawfish is currently steaming away in my pressure canner, but I already know that's going to taste great.  You could smoke and pressure can an old sock and it would taste great.  

I wonder how many people who talk trash about Northern Pikeminnow have ever actually eaten one?  The only other person I know who has taken the time to investigate the food value of this fish is my own brother Eli Kimm.  (I think my mom created the "you kill it, you eat it" rule especially for him.)  Eli claimed they were fine eating, but I've seen him eat an earthworm, so I thought I'd better do my own research.  Turns out my older bro was right.  Northern Pikeminnow is fine eating, and I'd totally enjoy some fried trash fish again.  

*addendum:  The smoked and pressure canned fish tasted great but was a little dry relative to the steelhead I prepared the same way.  I need to work on my technique, but I would definitely smoke and can Squawfish again.  I'd love to make a whitefish salad with it…if only I could find a good bagel in Portland.  Some things ARE better in New York.

We caught a lot of teeny Squawfish while fishing for "half-pounder" steelhead on the Rogue river.  I was kinda hoping for a big one.

 My wish was granted.  Dad's got my big Pikeminnow in the net!

Around 17 inches long, dad thinks it's a three-pounder.   

I'm going to fillet and skin half of it.

For the other half I'll leave the skin, fins and bones in tact and smoke and can it along with the steelhead I caught.  

This half I'm gonna eat fresh.  

Dusted with flour, salt and pepper.

Into the frying pan.

Looks good to me.  Smells dee-lish.

A splash of soy sauce and a little lemon...all I need now is a steaming bowl of Japanese rice.  

You can see the Y bones here.

The dark meat runs along the lateral line.  I flaked off most of it and took it in one bite.  Not recommended eating, but I wanted to know if it might be the cause of this Pikeminnow's reputation as a bad eating fish.  It tasted kinda like liver. 

The small amount of dark meat is easily avoided.  I thoroughly enjoyed eating fried Squawfish and I'd do it again.  



19 comments:

  1. I'm so glad I found this blog! I just caught a Northern Pikeminnow and every other blog I could find on the subject of cooking them was "throw it away." Thanks for writing this!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Caught a three pound Sqauw...Uhh, Pike minnow yesterday, in a local lake on the central Oregon Coast. What a surprise! My fishing buddy throws them back, preferring trout and yellow perch caught in this lake. As my wife is Chinese, raised in China, her fish eating habits include fish head, (the jowls are the delicacy), and fish soup. Normally using trout for the soup.

    The fish soup she made included ginger, dried mushroom powder and cows milk added to the water. Excellent soup! The bones are left in the bottom of the pot. The remnants are burred deep in our tiny fenced-off fruit tree plot.

    The fillets, were fried without flower, just a little salt. I added fresh lemon juice. Tasted delicious!

    ReplyDelete
  3. An absolutely fantastic article, kudos for helping dispel the prejudice and hate directed at this beneficial native fish. I hope you don't mind that I'm linking it from our northern pikeminnow species page at roughfish.com (http://www.roughfish.com/northern-pikeminnow)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yes, it taste good. But not a very benificial member of the riparian area. It will eat any fish that will fit down its throat, not just salmon and steelhead. So whether you keep and cook it or kill it and throw it away, that one less fish killing the other species of fish.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're a fucking moron! Adult salmon and trout eat other species of fish as well. Northern pikeminnows are native, predatory fish. Do you not kill things to eat them. Maybe we should eat you or cook you or throw you away, because you are not positively contrinbuting to the gene pool.
      What the fuck does a riparian area have to do with your dumb-ass assumptions?
      Are you from the Bitterroot Valley or from Idaho, dipshit. You should look up vasectomy on the same site you looked up riparian, you fuckin hickerbilly!

      Delete
    2. Kiss yer Mom with that mouth? Evidence of your superiority is so evident in your mastery of the written swear word. Thanks for the laugh!

      Delete
    3. April 19 Anonymous... They are all part of the food chain. Do you catch & kill salmon and trout because they eat each other and smaller of the species?

      And the language used in the July 10th Anonymous response pretty much negates the message... really.

      Delete
    4. the problem with pikeminnow is not that they eat smaller fish its that there are too many of them. humans screwing with water bodies has caused an overpopulation. they are native but too many of any fish is destructive and many other native species are in danger of being killed out in the affected water bodies if the pikeminnow population is not reduced. I hate when people kill fish for no reason like how fisherman often leave staghorn sculpin to rot on the dock but the pikeminnow population must be reduced one way or another.

      Delete
  5. I just steamed a 10" pikeminnow for 15 min. It tasted like trout with a more fleshy texture. It had a lot of bones, small and clear, that I wanted to wish away. I'd prefer trout, salmon and steelhead, but if hungry, I'll eat this fish.

    ReplyDelete
  6. you're freakin awesome, love the elk pate video

    ReplyDelete
  7. A bit of additional information for many. The issue with the Pikeminnow (Squawfish) is that the damming of our rivers has given rise to an over population of the native pikeminnow. The catching and dispatching of the fish (eating, turning in for bounty, using for fertilizer, etc.) only begins to bring the population back original, native numbers. With a tougher migration for the salmon and steelhead combined with increased numbers of predatory species the 'dispatching' of the pikeminnow is an necessary alternative.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Just yesterday I talked to the mother of a friend of mine and she cooked up squawfish just like you last week
    Have you tried making anything else from it yet, like patties for instance?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hey there, great article! I caught and ate one yesterday thinking it was a lake trout hahahaha (wondered why the meat was white). Just figured out what it was today after the fact! Guess what, all the bones aside, it was delicious! actually just tasted like white trout! We fried the fillets up with some salt and pepper. I really support the act of eating so called "trash" fish to stress the environment less while still filling your stomach. It was about 20" long.

    ReplyDelete
  10. According to Oregon Fish and Wildlife, Pike Minnow are native to the pacific northwest but not to the Rogue watershed. So catch and eat as many as you'd like. Mercury levels should be a concern though.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Here is how I do it. filet the pikeminnow as you would a trout then cool the filets in the fridge overnight. Now cut the filets crossways into quarter inch strips. This cuts the pin bones into small pieces. Batter and fry in your favorite batter. Pikeminnow is every bit as good as walleye.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I live on the Rogue and was told northern pike minnows where introduced here accidentally. They where original y stocked in ponds for insect control and found their into the river system by way of flooding. How true this is I don't know. I do however know that Squawfish where eaten on flathead lake long before white folks ever decided they were inedible. There's lots of old black and white pictures of them being caught and on drying racks in the Mission valley.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Being a person from the Midwest and having eaten lots of pike since before I can remember I know you can fillet these fish so they have very little bones, there is an easy technique for filleting and getting the "y" bones out. The pikeminnow for all practical purposes is the same and tastes similar. Search utube, u will find a video that shows it better then I could explain it.

    Personally I am curious why a fish that eats only fish you would eat is considered a trash fish by many in this area? Anything that eats only what I want to catch and eat should be considered food.

    Side note: pickled is a great way to go as well as smoked. Smoke them like chubs or whitefish are done in the Great Lakes area. Google it and you will find some great ideas for smoking them! I have yet to try the fish boil method on them but as soon as I do I will do an update.

    And other poster is correct as well, best way we did it was to fry them just like walleye.

    ReplyDelete
  14. If pikeminnow have Y bones like Northerns, then all you have to do is lay out the fillet on the board after you skin in. Run your fingers down the fillet. You should be able to feel the Y bones in a line. Just cut down both sides of it and you have two boneless strips. I love Northerns. Seems to me that what we have here is an underutilized fishery. Yum.

    ReplyDelete