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
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
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
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
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.
LURES TO THE OUTDOORS
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
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.