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January 13, 2013

Cross: Pickled fish has its own merits

— 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:

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