Though I risk preaching to the outdoor choir, Walleye Pike, the esteemed Minnesota State Fish, is arguably one of the best eating fresh water species on the planet. The culinary beauty lies in its delicate, yet firm texture, mild flavor, and palpable sweet finish. When eaten just hours after being caught, the pleasure is doubled.
After a January day chasing walleye on hard water, here’s a dish worthy of the fish; a bona fide de-icer and belly warmer for any ice fisherman or woman.
Mediterranean Walleye Soup:
3 pounds of walleye and seafood in any combination (I added shrimp and lobster tails) 2 fennel bulbs cut top to bottom, then sliced thin cross-wise 1 large onion sliced thin 2 stalks celery sliced thin 8-10 cloves garlic, smashed ¾ cup peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes (fresh, or canned) 2 T tomato paste 8-10 cups seafood/fish stock/fumet (many recipes available online) ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes 3 pinches of saffron threads 1 juiced orange 3 (2-3inch) strips orange zest ½- ¾ cup white wine Olive oil Kosher salt Chopped fresh parsley leaves
In a large soup pot heat about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil over low-medium heat. Add the onion celery and garlic and cook until tooth tender. You don’t want them browned or caramelized, just sweated and tender.
Add the white wine, stock, orange juice, orange zest, tomato paste, red pepper flakes and saffron, and bring to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes to reduce liquid by about 1/3.
Add the fennel and tomatoes. Cook for 20-30 minutes until fennel is tender.
Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper and cut into large chunks. If you are adding large shrimp and lobster tails, remove the shells, de-vein, and cut into chunks also seasoning with salt and pepper.
Carefully add walleye, seafood, and parsley to the pot and allow to cook, (essentially you are poaching the meats), stirring only once, or twice if necessary, until done. This only takes about 5 minutes. (You don’t want to beat apart the walleye by stirring.)
Ladle-up and serve in flat bowls with crusty bread, or large homemade croutons.
A note on making fish or seafood stock: Stock is really easy to make. Unequivocally it adds a depth and complexity to this soup that one simply cannot achieve from a bouillon cube, or a box of broth from the grocery shelf. You can easily pick up some shrimp in the shell at your local market, or save the fish heads and non-oily parts and carcasses after filleting your fresh catch. They work great! We had plenty of shrimp and lobster shells left over from our Christmas evening meal, so it offered the perfect opportunity to cook up a pot of stock. For more on fish stock, check out this link