The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 13, 2013

Cross: Pickled fish has its own merits

By John Cross
Free Press Staff Writer

— I was just about to ice a nice northern pike the other day.

But with no gaff and the fish hooked far back on the side of the jaw, it’s nose would catch every time I tried to coax the pike’s long head into the eight-inch hole.

The fish, which I guessed to be in the seven- or eight-pound range, finally tired of the game and with an easy flip of its tail, snapped the light line and vanished into the depths.

I usually release northerns anyway. It’s not because they are poor table fare. In fact, their firm, white meat is quite tasty.

It’s just that unless one takes the effort to removed the copious Y-bones that are a unique component to a northern pike’s physical make-up, picking through a fillet at the dinner table can be a tedious affair.

But had I not lost this one, I had plans for it.

There are myriad ways to prepare fish, of course. You can fry, bake, broil, even boil them.

Eventually, that pike would have made it into Mason jars, pickled into firm, white flesh mingled with sweet slices of onion and spices.

Most of us are familiar with the pickled herring found in the deli/cooler section of grocery stores.

But just about every freshwater fish species that calls Minnesota home can be pickled, too.

Northerns in particular are great candidates because the process of soaking them in brine and vinegar softens the copious Y-bones, rendering them virtually unnoticeable.

The pickling process is quick, easy and the results are quite tasty.

Arguably, freshly pickled fish you’ve made yourself, a few crackers, all washed down with a cold one is one of those exquisitely simple pleasures, a reward for living an outdoor life.

However, not to put anyone off from eating fish, pickled or otherwise, a caveat should be offered: It’s a fact that all fish species, but northerns in particular, sometimes can carry a tapeworm parasite that can be passed on to humans.

While the conventional process of cooking fish with heat kills any cysts that might be present, the cold process of pickling does not.

But freezing does, so it is recommended that any fish to be pickled first be frozen for several weeks to ensure that any tapeworm cysts are killed.

The following two recipes are simple, fast and tasty ways to transform three or four pounds of fillets into pickled piscatorial delight:

Pickled Fish in Thunderbird wine

Brine mix: 1/2 cup, pickling (not iodized) salt mixed with 1 quart of water. (Make enough to cover the amount of fish you’re pickling.)

Pickling solution to cover 5-6 pints of fish: 4 cups white vinegar mixed with 3 cups of sugar. Heat just enough to dissolve sugar. Do not boil. Cool and add 1 cup of Thunderbird (or any other cheap white wine), 2 raw sliced onions and a 1/4-cup pickling spice and bring to a boil. Cool.

Cut fillets into bite-sized pieces and place in a plastic or glass bowl. Cover with brine for 24 hours.

Drain brine and cover with white vinegar for 24 hours then drain.

Pack fish loosely in jars with alternating layers of fresh onions. Pour cool pickling solution (hot solution will soften fillets) over the fish. Cover and refrigerate 4-5 days before eating.

Simply Pickled fish

Brine: 1 cup pickling salt dissolved into 1 quart white vinegar. (Make enough to cover the fish.) Place bite-sized fillets into plastic or glass container and cover with brine. Cover. Refrigerate for 6 days, stirring daily with a wooden spoon. Drain and rinse. Place in jars, alternating with layers of sliced onions.

Pickling solution to cover 5-6 pints of fish: Mix 2 cups sugar with 1 quart white vinegar. Add 1 tbs. pickling spice. Stir and heat until boiling. Boil five minutes and then cool.

Pour cool pickling solution into jars of fish. Cover and refrigerate 4 days. Enjoy!

The first recipe is a bit sweeter then the second. If you prefer bit more spice in your life, fresh jalapeno or chili peppers can be added to the pickling solution. Pickled fish must be refrigerated and should be eaten within 90 days.

But chances are slim that it will last that long.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by e-mail at