Boils and bakes are traditionally associated with coastal regions of the United States. Scandinavian immigrants get credit for bringing the fish boil to the Midwest (far from saltwater coastal areas and shellfish). They prepared locally caught for a quick and economical way to feed large groups of people.
The fish is typically cut into small chunks and cooked in boiling water with red potatoes. Some boilers add onions. Salt is the only seasoning used, to raise the specific gravity of the water. Up to one pound of salt is added to two gallons of water.
The cooking of the fish can be an elaborate “show-off” presentation to add flare to the simple dish. The fish and potatoes are prepared in a cast-iron kettle. When the water comes to a boil, the potatoes in a wire basket are lowered into the kettle. The fish are then placed in another wire basket and lowered in. After about 10 minutes when the fish are cooked, the oils rise to the top of the pot. The boiler then tosses a small amount of kerosene on the flames and the increase in flames causes a boil-over. The fish oils spill over the side of the pot and the fish is done. The fish chunks remain whole and firm. Boilers usually drip melted butter over the fish before serving. Although not part of the traditional recipe, tartar sauce and lemon slices are also served with the fish.
Boiled Crappie Snacks
2 fillets (or more) per person
Dash of salt or use a seafood boil – Zatarain’s* or Old Bay.
Cut fillets into 1-inch cubes and put into boiling water for about 1.5 minutes. A seafood boil will add more flavors. Serve hot or chill before serving.
* Zatarain means “fishing hole” in a Spanish Basque dialect.
Boiled Crappie Sauce
4 parts ketchup
1 part horse radish
Squirt of lemon or lime juice to taste.
Mix ingredients well and chill. Impale crappie chunks with toothpicks for dipping. Also serve with dipping chips if desired. Easy and fast to prepare for watching ball games and TV fishing shows.
Poached Crappie Fillets
2 crappie fillets per person
In a pan, pour just enough liquid to cover fish. Cover the pan tightly and cook fillets just below the boiling point. Cook fillets 8 to 10 minutes. The poaching liquid may be used as the base for a sauce.
Make sauce as above or serve with cocktail sauce.