Recipes: Mexican Crappie
by Vernon Summerlin
Recipe from south of the border, plus tips on choosing a filet knife
Mexican Crappie & Fillet Knives
- 1-1/2 pounds fillets
- 1/2 teaspoon taco seasoning
- 1 cup pico de gallo (recipe below)
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup crushed tortilla chips
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a 9×12 baking dish. Rinse fillets well and pat dry with paper towels. Lay fillets side by side in the prepared baking dish. Squeeze lime juice over the fillets and sprinkle with taco seasoning. Salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 10 minutes and remove from oven and cover with fillets with pico de gallo (salsa). Sprinkle with freshly grated cheddar cheese and top with crushed tortilla chips. Bake for another 5 to 10 minutes or until the fish is cooked and flakes easily with a fork. Plate fillets and garnish with guacamole, black olives, sour cream, jalapenos and lime wedges. Serve with Spanish or Mexican rice.
Pico de Gallo
- 4 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Combine ingredients and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
Choosing a Crappie Fillet Knife
Right off I’ll tell you I’m prejudiced about fillet knives. I recently spent three and a half hours researching on line for the “best” crappie fillet knife. I had no idea there are so many companies making the thin, sharp blades best suited for the task of separating the fish’s flesh from its skin. In general, a good fillet knife needs to be thin to the point of flexing – put the tip on your kitchen counter or your fish-cleaning station and press down on it. The blade should bow. If properly sharpened, the thinner the blade, the easier it will pass through fish flesh. This also requires the metal of very good quality. Unlike a boning knife, the fillet knife should flex at least one inch from the tip, however, two- to-three inches in flex is more practical, especially for smaller fish like crappie, bream, trout and others.
Other qualities your knife blade should possess, other than the right flexibility of high carbon stainless steel, are that it matches the size of the fish you’re cleaning, that it holds a sharp edge and is easy to sharpen and clean.
Most kitchen knives have a 20-degree beveled edge. For filleting, an edge bevel of 12 to 15 degrees per side provides a clean, easy cut and reasonable resistance to dulling. If you don’t cut bone, monofilament or bait with your fillet knife, a 15-degree bevel will serve you just fine. Because knife edges typically fail by the edge folding over, the amount of metal supporting the edge is a key factor in determining its durability. By definition, a 15-degree edge will have less metal supporting it than a 20- degree edge and it will fail more quickly.
Speaking of sharp, the sharpest knives in the world are not made of steel but of volcanic rock. Obsidian’s edge can be more than razor-sharp; many opine it is the sharpest edge in the world, however, it’s a lot rarer than commercially made knives. The thinnest of the obsidian blades are just three nanometers wide making it 10 times sharper than any razor blade. They have been used in surgery but they are brittle and inflexible.
On seeing a commercial for some fillet knives tempted me but didn’t swallow the hook. I learned many are stainless blades are made in China of low-to-mid grade steel and quickly lose their edge. In contrast, Mercer Culinary Millennia Narrow, is ranked high-to-highest among fillet knives in the “inexpensive” group. It offers a blade that’s easy to maneuver and has an ergonomic handle that combines comfort and durability. It’s resistant to rust and corrosion, plus its super-sharp edge cuts through meat and fish like butter.
Now for my favorite knife that I still use today. It was given to me in 1978 as a parting gift when moving back South from my research stint at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota (and some of the best fishing I’ve ever experienced). The full-tang Swedish stainless steel blade and reinforced birch handle, the Rapala Fish’n Fillet is durable, comfortable, holds its edge and is easy to resharpen. Its blade is strong and flexible.
I limited my research to manual knives, although I saw many electric brands. I even have a few I haven’t touched in years – I prefer my old Rapala. There are also a number of folding blades that got good reviews. If you want to know about other filet knives that are out there, head down the rabbit hole. Your search will take you down for hours. I’ve only touched on the inexpensive brands, those less than $30, but you can pay hundreds if all you want to do is brag.