Recipes: Tips-n-Tricks to Cooking Crappie
by Vernon Summerlin
Lots of great crappie options
It’s a New Year at CrappieNOW and we’ve got a boat-load of articles from experts in this issue to inspire you to bundle up for a trip into the cold to catch a platter full for supper. I’ll offer wisdom, tips, tricks and flat-out lies about cooking your fish. First, you have to catch a mess and clean them. After you’ve filleted your fish is where I step in to help you cook them so you can enjoy the delicate sweet tastes of crappies.
Seasoning Your Catch
The best way to season fish is to try to complement the natural depth of flavor and texture of the fish. Meaning, if you are seasoning a mild white fish like crappie with a fine flaky texture, use light seasonings; lemon, herbs and delicate spices. Do not put anything on a mild fish that will completely overpower the flavor of the fish unless you are experimenting for something different.
If you’re cooking fish with a heavy rich flavor, like salmon, you can use bolder seasonings like chili powder, soy sauce or balsamic vinegar. There are some exceptions. If you stick with the concept of light fish with light and bright seasoning and dense fish with heavy or bold seasoning, you shouldn’t be disappointed.
You can use marinades and dry rubs, or just go with a simple sprinkling of fresh herbs. Yet whatever you do, don’t forget the salt and pepper. Try some of these popular seasoning combinations for fish:
- Lemon zest, rosemary, thyme and garlic
- Capers, olives, lemon and garlic
- Breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese dried Italian herbs
- Orange zest, garlic, and thyme marinade
- Dijon mustard and garlic
- Soy sauce, Dijon mustard and chili flakes
- Brown sugar, soy sauce and liquid smoke
- White wine, garlic and butter
- Toasted sesame oil, garlic and ginger
- Miso paste* and honey
*At its most basic, miso is a fermented paste made by inoculating a mixture of soybeans with a mold called koji (for you science folks, that’s the common name for aspergillus oryzae) that’s been cultivated from rice, barley or soybeans. The red paste, also known as akamiso or simply miso, is quite salty and pungent. Whatever the color, they all impart umami flavor, a meaty, earthy taste that’s not quite sweet, salty, sour or bitter. And this product is nutritionally beneficial, too.
The Healthiest Way to Cook Fish
This method that uses little additional fat and allows the natural fats (if any) to drain off and retaining most of the nutrients. Just don’t cook it too long. Grilling and baking are most likely the healthiest ways for cooking fish.
The Easiest Way to Cook Fish
The easiest option for cooking fish would be a method that allows you to season the fish, then step back. Baking fish is the first choice. Your bonus: When you bake fish, you are also slightly less likely to overcook it than when you pan-fry or grill fish.
Methods for Producing the Best Flavor
You can season and add toppings to fish, so that no matter how you cook it, it will taste delicious. However, if you are sticking with a very simple preparation of just salt, pepper, lemon and a sprinkling of herbs, pan-frying in butter produces the very best flavor and texture.
Other popular methods of cooking fish include: smoking, poaching, braising and deep frying with batter. With the basics of cooking fish, the top three easy methods are baking, grilling and pan-frying.
Baking fish is an easy, healthy, low-stress option for people that tend to overcook fish. You will almost always want to stick with the base temperature of approximately400 degrees F, so the fish cooks quickly, yet retains its moisture. Remember that the thickness of the fish fillet will determine the cooking time. Thin fillets cook in less than 8 minutes while thicker catfish steaks might take more than 15-25.
- Wash and pat the fish fillets dry then season on both sides. Unless one side is covered by skin, there’s no need to season skin unless you plan to eat it.)
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Then lay the fish directly on the baking sheet or on a rack over the baking sheet.
- Place in the oven and bake until just cooked to doneness. The fish should feel slightly firm but not hard and should be able to flake easily.
- Remove and rest 3-5 minutes before serving.
Grilling is probably the healthiest method of cooking fish because you are less likely to add heavy crusts and the excess fats drip off the fish as it cooks. It can, however, be tricky to flip if you set delicate fish fillets directly over hot grates.
- Preheat your grill to medium-high, roughly 400-450 degrees F.
- Wash and pat the fillets dry. Season both sides.
- Pour high-heat cooking oil (canola) on a folded paper towel. Then use tongs to hold the paper towel as you rub the grates with the towel, so they are coated with oil. (You can also use non-stick “grill spray.”)
- Carefully set the fish fillets on the hot grill and cook until done
- For thin fillets, do not flip. For thicker fillets, flip halfway through the cooking time.
- Tip: If the fish has skin on one side, grill it skin-side-down. If you plan to cook it on both sides, grill flesh side first, then flip the fillet and finish skin-side-down.
Now here’s a trick to put you on the spot to try something very different. This breaks some seasoning rules I posted earlier for fish like crappie. The Jamaican spice treatment called “jerk” isn’t just for meat and chicken, it’s bang-up delicious on fish too. Rub the spice paste on fillets and broil for a crisp, spicy coating. Though the sesame seeds aren’t traditional, they add a pleasant crunch and rich flavor.
- 2 pounds slab crappies fillets with skin on one side
- 1/3 cup onion (chopped)
- 1 clove garlic (smashed)
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional)
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt (divided)
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1/2 teaspoon vinegar
In a blender, puree the onion, garlic and sesame seeds with the brown sugar, allspice, thyme, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon of the salt, black pepper, cayenne, oil and vinegar. Heat the broiler. Lightly oil a broiler pan or baking sheet. Sprinkle both sides of the fish fillets with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and put them on the prepared baking sheet, skinned-side down. Spread the spice mixture over the fish in an even layer. Broil the fish, about six inches from the heat until well-browned and done.