May it please the palate

Pouting over walleye

By Nick Roumel

Walleye, sometimes called pickerel, is a freshwater fish common in Canada and the northern US. It is the state fish of South Dakota and Minnesota, and both Garrison and Baudette, Minnesota claim to be the walleye capital of the world, with competing statues of giant walleyes.

Walleye is a favorite target of sport fisherman, who prize it for its mild, sweet, and flaky flavor. Recipes abound, from the simple favorite of campers, dipped in egg and cornflakes and then pan fried, to the more elegant presentations given to trout and sole.

It is perhaps my favorite fish. Last week I was returning from depositions in Wisconsin, and killing time in the airport restaurant before my flight. I was mulling between the fried perch and a bacon bleu cheese burger, when the waitress informed me they were out of perch “but substituting walleye.” I got all excited and ordered the walleye.

She returned with a plate that had everything on it but the walleye – French fries, coleslaw, lemon wedges, parsley, and a bed of toast for the fish that wasn’t there. “They no longer have walleye,” she intoned, as if she were merely announcing a change of menu items rather than stabbing me through the heart. “They’re back to perch.”

I’m sure she fully expected me to say “No matter! Bring hither the freshwater perch!” Whereupon she’d slap it on that bed of toast and serve me dinner.  But I did not cooperate. Instead, I groused, and pouted. Feeling quite sorry for myself, I asked her to return in five minutes.

After five minutes, I churlishly ordered the hamburger, medium rare. “The chef doesn’t do medium rare,” she announced, with a hint of pleasure in her voice. “Fine, I don’t care.” I waved her away with a flourish. My three hour layover was down to 20 minutes.

Nineteen minutes later, I got an overdone hockey puck that I had to eat while jogging to my gate.

A week later, I found myself in Traverse City. Walleye was on the menu, in some sort of maple sauce. Suspicious, I asked if the chef could prepare it like the halibut menu item, in a simple buerre blanc. They did and it was quite tasty.

When fillets are lightly coated in flour and sautéed in butter, that is called “meunière,” a term you may have seen French menus. When given an additional garnish of lemon and capers, that is called “grenobloise,” - in the style of Grenoble, France. That happens to be my favorite presentation of walleye.

So today we’re going to gussy up that Minnesota walleye and cook it in the French grenobloise style.

Walleye Grenobloise
serves 2

My Mis-En-Place, all in place

1 lb. walleye fillets

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1⁄4 cup milk

2 lemons

1/2 cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper

1/2 cup oil (I used peanut, preferably any high-heat tolerant kind)

1/2 stick butter

1 TBS capers, drained

1 TBS chopped parsley

1. Season walleye fillets with salt and pepper; put them into a shallow dish. Cover with milk; set aside.

2. Peel the yellow skin and white pulp from one lemon. Cut into thin slices and discard the seeds. Cut these lemon slices into small cubes. Set aside.

3. Heat the oil and a little butter in a pan over fairly high heat. You can use just oil, just butter, or a mixture of both.

4. When the oil is heating, remove fish from milk and dredge both sides in flour, shaking off the excess. Add the fillets to the skillet. Cook, turning once, until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer browned fish to plates and cover to keep warm, or place in low oven.

5. Add (non-clarified) butter to skillet; cook, stirring, until it turns and smells nut-brown. Remove from heat and stir in lemon pieces, capers, and parsley; swirl skillet to combine. Spoon sauce over walleye. Serve immediately. Garnish with the second lemon, cut into wedges.

Now that I’ve shown you my favorite way to prepare my favorite fish, here are my favorite accompaniments: Michigan asparagus, baked potato, a “Traverse City” salad (spinach, bleu cheese, red onion, dried cherries, and walnuts or pecans), and fresh bread. This meal would pair nicely with a German Riesling, a Sauvignon Blanc or perhaps a Pinot Grigio.

Truly, this would be an international feast to be proud of – maybe even worthy of a statue.

But if they’re out of walleye – as my local store was it when I was shopping for this recipe – don’t pout.
Substitute trout.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor.

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