"In wildness is the preservation of the world." -H.D. Thoreau

Why eat from the wild? The answer is obvious to anyone who has felt the emotional uplift from the weight of a basket brimming with morel mushrooms, the earthy-sweet scent of digging Sassafras roots, or the heavy pulsing of a fish testing the limits of your fly rod.
There are a million reasons to eat wild, to get dirty, to taste fresh food. It is here where we connect to the Earth, our Ancestral past, immediate present and hope for a healthy future...

"Nothing else can build such awareness as surely and powerfully as practicing the ancient ecological art of humankind - foraging. It is not observation of, but rather participation in the phenomena of Nature that brings us to our greatest understanding of our place in the mosaic of life."
-Samuel Thayer The Forager's Harvest

Foraging in the Tip of the Mitten!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Full Bone Moon Recipe: Fried Whitebait

In traditional society the Bone Moon meant that there was a severe scarcity of fresh food, so keeping with that theme, I've decided to share a recipe that few would make the effort to wild-harvest unless confronted with serious hunger: Fried Whitebait.
"Whitebait" is a collective term for immature fish fry or minnows. Generally between 2 to 5 inches, they are fried and eaten whole - bones, skin, head and guttie-wuts. The cooking renders all this soft and edible and they are a delicacy in Europe. There's even some whitebait festivals out there!

After reading a recipe for fried minnows in Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills of Cooking, I was aching to bust out the seine net and try it myself. The laws concerning the use of a seine net in Michigan are as follows:
Minnows for personal use only may be taken with hook and line, seines, dip nets, and traps with a valid fishing license. In trout streams minnows may only be taken during the open season for trout by hook and line or minnow traps. Seines must not be over 12 feet by 4 feet.

So this means that my home river, the Jordan, is open to seine netting from Graves Crossing to Lake Charlevoix  until the last Saturday in April when the waters upstream from Graves, the Type 1 trout stream section, open up.

  The Jordan in winter, Michigan's 1st designated Wild and Scenic River

Using a seine net is fairly straightforward but does require practice. It is more difficult in moving water due to the current and a lot of sticks and snags hiding under the river's surface, but there is no open water on the lakes this time of year. It requires two people coordinating together, and in the winter, a good pair of waders.

The team of netters tries to keep the bottom of the net as close to the stream bottom as possible and moves upstream and toward each other at the same time. The trick is trying to flip the net up without losing any minnows and that is gonna take take some trial-and-error. If you are working a river with a gradual bank, or a lake, it is best to sweep toward shore, forcing the fish into shallower and shallower water. Minnow traps are an easier alternative, but I don't have one yet.

Here we have Emerald Shiners (Notropis atherinoides), which are beautiful and colorful when pulled fresh from the river, but quickly fade once killed.

Whole Fried Whitebait  
(adapted from the book Bones: Recipes, History & Lore by Jennifer McLagan)

1/2 lb whitebait
1/4 cup barley flour
Sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 cups canola oil
Lemon wedges

Mix flour with salt and pepper, toss in some of the whitebait and then transfer to a sieve and give it a shake to remove excess flour. Place fish on a baking sheet and repeat with the remaining fish.

Heat the oil in a large skillet until very hot. Add only some of the fish at one time. Adding all the fish can cool the temperature of the oil and result in soggy fish. Fry for two minutes or until golden. Drain on paper towels and repeat with remaining fish. Sprinkle on salt and pepper and dribble on a bit of fresh lemon. Enjoy!

"Mmm! Tastes like Smelt!"

1 comment:

  1. Pretty straight forward recipe that. I reckon I could manage it. We can buy whitebait around here. Will pick some up and give that a try. ツ