"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Wild Recipes
Cleaning, Preserving, and Cooking Suckers
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

Although the pesky, needle-like bones in the flesh of suckers discourage many Hoosiers who otherwise are good fish eaters, Ol' Puckermouth still is one of the tastiest of our piscatorial citizens. 

It is possible to eliminate the bones by cooking them into submission. 

A big platter of deep fried sucker filets starts with the so-called "cleaning" process. 

Start by scaling the fish and leave the skin (without the scales) on. Shave the filets off both sides of the body leaving the spinal column bones attached to the head. 

Wash the filets in cold, running tap water and allow them to dry. Then place each filet skin-side down on a cutting board and score each crosswise with cuts about 1/8 (one eighth) inch apart from one end of the filet to the other. Cuts should be made almost to the skin, but not quite . . . the skin holds the filet together. (Click here to see example.)

With scored filets meat side up on a cookie sheet, salt and pepper them liberally, then shake each filet in a grocery or plastic bag with a mixture of finely-rolled crackers and flour (50-50). 

Place dredged filets meat side up on a cookie sheet and freeze them solid. Filets then can be stored in plastic bags (wrapped tightly in two or three thicknesses of newspaper. This helps curb freezer burn. 

When you are hankering for a fish dinner, get the cooking fat hot and drop the filets in a few at a time. 

When they float, they are done, but it is a good idea to let them turn light brown. 

The hot cooking oil will render the needle bones crisp and you will not know they are there. But it still is a good idea to eat some bread along with the sucker filets. And it is not a good idea to allow children to eat them. 

Okay, so you don't like the deep fried sucker route. Well, you can can suckers (sounds like some kind of dance, doesn't it?) with a pressure cooker (10 pounds of pressure for 90 minutes) and they will be much like a can of salmon--great for snacks with crackers, fish cakes, or fish loaf. 

Just scale them and chop them into golf ball-sized chunks, with or without the skin and the spinal column bones. 

Wash pieces in cold running water, drain them well and stuff them in pint canning jars with airtight lids. When the tightly-packed jar is half full, sprinkle half a teaspoon of salt over the chunks and fill the jar almost to the top before adding another half-teaspoon of salt. A few pinches of mustard powder--or other seasonings of your choice--may be added. 

Turn jar tops hand tight (don't force them) and place jars in pressure cooker with enough water (and maybe a little vinegar) to keep the cooker steaming for 90 minutes. 

Cool cooker gradually, and do not open cooker until there is no inside pressure. Then open cooker, tighten jar lids a little more and store the jars of fish in a cool, dark cupboard or cabinet. If a jar is opened and there are leftovers (fat chance), the jar with lid tight should be refrigerated until used in the next day or so. 

Canned suckers can be substituted for any other fish for fish cakes or fish loaf, or simply used on a relish tray with crackers, sweet or sour pickles, veggie chunks and other goodies. 

Pressure-cooking canning will render big bones crunchy and hide little bones completely. 

Canning also is a good way to process small bluegills and other small fish, even larger fish. Just scale them cut off heads, remove entrails, cut them in chunks, and stuff them in jars for cooking. 

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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