I have always loved catching rock bass. They attack with an almost violent bite, and if you get a good-sized fish it can put up an entertaining fight. They will also bite on just about anything you want to throw at them. When I was a kid I would take my fishing pole down to the dock and bait my hook with a piece of Oscar Meyer hot dog and would catch dozens of rock bass right under the boat lift. My grandmother would clean all of them and fry them up for lunch. A lot of people shy away from rock bass as table fare, but I contend that fresh-caught rock bass are as good as any other panfish.
This past June I was up on Leech Lake. I was looking for walleyes and cast out a plain lindy rig with a shiner minnow. As soon as the sinker hit the bottom I had a fish. I could tell right away that I had a rock bass just by how erratically and violently it was fighting. I got that one in the boat, got my line back in the water as fast as I could, and got another one. In a very short time I had six good-sized rock bass in the live well. A couple of them were 9-inchers.
As you might recall, I love to fry fresh fish in a saltine breading and eat them with tartar sauce, but I have been trying to use some of the fish I catch in new—and international—ways. A while back I was at a Vietnamese restaurant and ordered the shrimp spring rolls. The spring roll wrapper was lighter and crispier than an egg roll wrapper would be, and the shrimp on the inside was sweet and delicate. I asked the owner if he would share the recipe with me. He said if he did that, I would never come back. He did end up telling me the basics of what went into it though, and I tried it for the first time with perch but I’ve used crappies and sunfish as well. I’ve made these spring rolls probably a dozen times, and have tweaked the recipe little by little. And I think I’ve finally got it right.
Recipe makes about 12 spring rolls
- 1 lb. fresh panfish fillets
- 8 oz. drained water chestnuts
- 2 tsp. sesame oil
- 2 tsp. fish sauce
- 2 tbsp. cornstarch
- 2 tbsp. rice vinegar
- 2 tbsp. palm sugar (or regular sugar)
- 1 medium carrot
- 1/2 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. garlic, minced
- 2 tsp. fresh-grated ginger
- 1 tsp. minced lemongrass
- 12 spring roll wrappers
- Oil for frying
- Place all of the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until combined into a paste. The carrots and water chestnuts should not be smooth—you want small chunks that give the fish filling some texture.
- Place a quarter cup of the mixture in the center of the spring roll wrapper, and then roll into spring rolls.
- Mix together 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of water to make a glue to help seal the spring rolls shut.
- Heat your oil to 350 degrees and fry in batches for 5-6 minutes.
Serve the spring rolls with a nuoc cham or sweet and sour sauce.