"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Striped Bass Makes Great Chow(der)
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

It was a magnificent fish.

With its dark-lined, silvery sides stretched well beyond the limits of the yardstick, it was almost as beautiful in death as it had been flopping in the bottom of the boat.

Still, it was quite dead. And, if I were to kill such a magnificent creature (which I had done when I elected to keep it), I wanted to be sure that I would use as much of it as possible (can anybody use a rib-cage bone?).

Thus, when my son-in-law, Fred Riedel, sharpened the filet knife, I told him I would like to keep both the skeletal structure (the bones) and the head of the fish. I didn't say it, but I have long felt that the process of filleting fish wastes a lot of good food. And I have long gouged out the cheek meat on bass and some other freshwater species because small as it is, it still is good chow--some of the best meat on a fish.

When Fred had finished his work, I had three one-gallon Ziploc bags which eventually would be placed in my home freezer. The fish head was in one bag (I wanted both those tasty nuggets of cheek meat and to see what the inside of a striped-bass head looked like); in another were the two big boneless filets from the sides of the fish (the scaled skin still attached), and in the third were the bones which include a good part of the belly meat--what I call "the bacon" of a big fish.

In due time the contents of each bag would sate my appetite, real or fancy.

Suffice it here to say that the contents of both the head bag and the filet bag fulfilled their potential. One day last week, more than six months after I had socked a steel 2/0 hook into the jaw of the fish, the bones were turned into enough beautiful white fish to become the prime ingredients of a delightful "Fish Bone Chowder," and several other fish dishes, including a delightful salad for munching on crackers.

Here's how I did it:

When placing the bones in the freezer bag it had been necessary to cut the spinal column into three sections. That made it easy to get them in a large (six-quart) sauce pan.

With about half an inch of cold water in the pan (I wanted to steam-cook the flesh, not boil it), I salted and peppered the contents, and covered the pan with a fairly tight lid (to trap most of the steam). Once the water was boiling, the heat was turned down to medium, just hot enough to keep producing steam.

Half an hour later, the heat was turned off and the bones (most of the meat still attached, but well cooked) were allowed to fool to a temperature comfortable to the hands.

The meat--some three pounds of it--then could be raked off the bones with a table fork, or pinched off with the fingers. Bones were discarded, but there were two containers for fish. One was for the less desirable parts (fat and small pieces of skin) to be mixed with the dogs' dinners for a few days; the other, beautiful white meat for my culinary concoctions.

Into a smaller (four-quart) sauce pan, I had diced a tennis-ball-sized onion, two medium potatoes, a stalk of celery, and pinched in a handful of dried black morels from last year. With just enough water to cover the diced veggies, I salted and peppered them liberally, and dropped in some small pieces of jowl bacon rind (skin) for seasoning, and covered the pan.

When the veggies started showing signs of tenderness (roughly half an hour), drained them, saving both the veggies and the stock (liquid they were cooked in).

In the smaller sauce pan (still hot from cooking the veggies), I spooned in five or six tablespoons of the hot stock, salted and peppered it, and stirred in enough flour to turn the stock into a thick paste over medium heat. As the pan grew hotter, I stirred more of the stock into the paste, and smashed the small lumps of flour (roux, pronounced roo if you are a hoity-toity French chef) until the mixture bubbled as a smooth sauce. At this point I stirred in the remainder of the stock and enough milk to keep the mixture from getting thicker than I wanted it to be as a thick (but not pasty) soup.

Then I stirred in tomato sauce until my creamy sauce was a nice shade of pink and stirred in the pre-cooked veggies and about 1 ½ (one and a half) cups of the fish pinched into small pieces.

From there it was only a matter of stirring my chowder occasionally over very low heat until time for din-din.

This, of course, leaves unanswered the question on what happened to the remainder of the fish from the bones of the striped bass.

There are many other delectable uses for such "leftover," but the one I used the day-after-chowder turned out to be a beautiful fish salad spread for cracker snacking. It would be equally as tasty on a bed of fresh-chilled lettuce surrounded by cottage cheese or even some fresh fruit.

I had about two cups of fish remaining, so in a glass bowl I mixed it with half a cup of finely chopped onion, half a cup of finely chopped celery, one well-chopped hard-boiled egg, and three tablespoons of finely-chopped cheddar cheese.

I moistened it with a mix of four heaping tablespoons of salad dressing and one heaping teaspoon of mustard (hotdog type). Salt, pepper and a light dusting of garlic salt made my salad ready to age in the frig.

As noted above, boneless fish fits well in many other dishes, hot or cold. Fish fried rice (just use your favorite recipe and the leftover fish will make you glad you did it), any a la king takeoff combines with a green salad for a great lunch, and it can be sautéed in barbeque sauce and chopped onion with great success.

And any one of the aforementioned recipes--or some concoction of your own--will become the better for starting as a bag of fish bones.


The yield for my first  mushroom safari last Saturday amounted, physically, to only one small black morel (partially eaten by some critter), but the signs pointed to greater success in the future in morels and other good things.

My walk in my favorite Boone County woodland showed spring beauty in the early stages of bloom, and trout lily was just getting started (I noted only two trout lily in bloom).

My trusty camera recorded a beautiful green tiger beetle (probably Cicindela sexguttata) on a well-weathered log, and that, alone, would justify my efforts.

The numbers of paw-paw blooms, though not yet fully opened, indicated that we could have a good crop of  "Indiana Bananas" come fall. As you may recall, drought late last summer thwarted last year's crop, and raccoons (due to a shortage of other foods) fed heavily on this wildwood fruit and damaged some of the "trees" heavily by breaking off fragile limbs.

All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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