An excerpt from the Missouri Department of Conservation’s cookbook Cooking Wild.
I’ll never forget sneaking my first bite of creamy white, golden-crusted catfish from between the paper towels when I was 6 or 7 years old. My mother had just scooped it out of the frying pan before supper, but I couldn’t wait until it got to the table. My uncle, an avid Cuivre River fisherman, kept our family’s freezer stocked with catfish and carp. Consequently, I had many opportunities to repeat my stealthy behavior whenever the irresistible sizzling sounds and smells of frying fish wafted from the kitchen during my childhood. Since then I’ve enjoyed cooking and eating many more kinds of Missouri sport fish, but catfish with cornbread holds a special place in my heart.
With almost a million fishing permits sold in the state annually, it’s obvious that fish rank high in the hearts and kitchens of many Missourians. Although there are more than 200 species of fish in the Show-Me State, anglers focus on only about two dozen of them. Bass, crappie, catfish, and trout — in that order — are the most popular. Although not a native species, trout stocked in the state’s cold streams have drawn fly fishers from near and far. In fact, Missouri has become one of the top five trout-fishing spots in the nation.
Trout draw many anglers not only for their outstanding culinary possibilities, but also for the “auditory and visual vacation” fishing for trout provides. That’s how angler Theresa Ferrugia, who took up the sport eight years ago, describes her time in the water. “I love the sounds of the running water, the birds and the wind … and seeing the eagles, osprey, kingfishers, hummingbirds, and flowers along the banks, rocks, and boulders. Of course, the colors of the fish themselves are gorgeous.
“Even though my husband and I go fishing together, most of the time we don’t even fish within sight of each other. I really enjoy fishing by myself—the time passes so quickly. Boat fishing is not for me, because I love to wade. In the winter I use waders and boots, but in the summer I wet wade, using only boots. My passion is dry fly fishing, and the most challenging thing about it is what combination of colors to use, how to present the fly, and how the trout might be taking the fly on a particular day.
“I have seen the most amazing things while fishing — an eagle and an osprey fighting in midair over a fish; a guy running upstream because he just saw a bear cross the river; and three or four eagles soaring against the bluffs. It’s all wonderful!”
GRILLED TROUT STUFFED WITH TOMATO AND BASIL
Fire up the grill on one of those hot summer days, when tomatoes and basil are abundant at the farmers market or in your garden. Locally cured bacon makes this dish superb.
Serves 2 to 4
- 2 whole trout (cleaned, boned, and butterflied)
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 medium red, dead-ripe tomato, sliced
- 8 large fresh basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 4 slices bacon
Rinse well both sides of fish and pat dry with a paper towel. On a baking sheet, place fish skin-side down, opening them flat like a book. Drizzle a teaspoon or so of olive oil over flesh of trout and rub in the oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place two slices of tomato on one half of the trout, topping each slice with two basil leaves. Sprinkle the length of the trout with 1 tablespoon cheese.
Fold unadorned side of the fish over the other side and wrap the whole fish in a spiral fashion with bacon; two bacon slices secure a medium-sized trout nicely. Repeat procedure with the other fish. Grill or broil in oven until bacon begins to crisp and trout is cooked through.
Side dishes that accompany nicely include fresh whole new potatoes; corn on the cob; green beans; cucumber, onion and sweet red-pepper rings in an herby vinaigrette; and crusty white bread. A glass of Pinot Grigio or Pinot Bianco doesn’t hurt either.
Canadian Cooking Theory
I swear by the Canadian Cooking Theory for cooking fish, and have used it all my cooking life to determine when fish are done. First publicized by the Department of Fisheries of Canada, the basic principle is that fish can be cooked, no matter how, at 10 minutes per inch. The technique works with whole fish, steaks and fillets, and it applies to baking, braising, broiling, frying, poaching, sautéing, grilling, steaming, and any other cooking method you can dream of. Measure your portion of fish at its thickest part (its depth, not across the fish), and calculate 10 minutes of cooking time for each inch of thickness. Having said all that, however, it is best to err on the side of undercooking. Some people prefer their fish on the rarer side, so always inquire of your guests’ preferences.
A fish griller is perfect for this because it allows easy turning of the fish on the grill. If using a broiler, make sure fish is at least 5 inches from the broiler element.
CATFISH TACOS WITH FRESH-TOMATO SALSA
Makes 4 to 6 tacos
- 1 pound catfish fillets
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- Salt and coarsely ground pepper
- 4 to 6 6-inch corn tortillas
- 2 cups chopped Romaine lettuce
- 1 avocado, cubed
- ¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled
- Bernadette’s Fresh-Tomato Salsa
Place fish on lightly oiled, rimmed baking sheet. Mix garlic and lime juice and drizzle mixture over fish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and let stand 15 minutes.
Broil fish in oven (you also may grill it) until opaque in center, 6 to 8 minutes. While fish is cooking, warm tortillas directly on a burner over lowest heat, turning once, until heated through. Watch carefully; the first side needs only 20 seconds or so, and the second side even less time. Alternatively, you may heat tortillas in a pan. Keep them warm in a tortilla basket lined with a cloth towel or napkin.
Cut fish into 1-inch pieces. Top each tortilla with lettuce, then fish. Drizzle with salsa and top with avocado and cheese. Serve with your favorite local ale.
Bernadette’s Fresh-Tomato Salsa
This makes enough to spice up a half-dozen tacos, plus some left over to have with tortilla chips the next day. You can throw it together in the time it takes to have someone else prep the ingredients for the tacos.
Makes about 4 cups of salsa
- 4 to 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 fresh jalapeno pepper, minced
- 2 medium fresh sweet peppers (red, orange, yellow, or green or combination), diced
- 1/2 to 3/4 medium onion, diced
- 5 to 6 medium tomatoes (a variety of colors and types), diced
- Several tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
- Juice of fresh lime
- Salt and coarsely ground pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and serve.
Don’t Measure, Just Taste!
I never measure the ingredients for this salsa, and I suggest you don’t either. Experiment with the quantities until you get the combination that tastes right for you. Always keep extra tomatoes on hand in case you need to add more to tone down the heat. I usually add the garlic and jalapeno sparingly if I’m serving people of whose tastes I’m uncertain. If I know everyone likes “hot” the way I do, I go whole hog and use lots of garlic and jalapeno. If fresh, local tomatoes are not in season, use canned. I love the chopped, fire-roasted varieties available in many grocery stores.
Cooking Wild in Missouri
Savoring the state’s native fish, game, nuts, fruits, and mushrooms Whether you hunt, fish, or forage, Bernadette Dryden’s collection of more than 100 delicious, kitchen-tested recipes highlights Missouri’s game, fish, nuts, fruits, and mushrooms. Tempting recipes cover appetizers, fresh salads, savory stews, elegant entrees, and delectable desserts. Detailed instructions are suitable for the novice or advanced cook and offer imaginative, fresh ideas for turning your harvest into a mouth-watering feast. With beautiful color photographs on nearly every page and dozens of tips to make your time in the kitchen easy, efficient, and fun, Cooking Wild in Missouri is sure to earn a trusted spot in your kitchen.
It costs $15 plus sales tax and shipping and handling. To order, call toll free 877-521-8632, or visit mdcnatureshop.com.