Thursday, June 13, 2013

How to make Crappie Chowder

The idea for this recipe came after successful day fishing at Prineville (Oregon) Reservoir. I borrowed some ideas from different sources, tweaked ingredients and the concoction became a hit among my fishing friends. The recipe was entered in the summer, 2001 "Crappie World" magazine recipe contest, and won first prize.

by Leon Pantenburg
A great comfort food on a cold night, or in camp after a successful day of fishing is chowder. If you can use some of the catch to make dinner that night, that is an added bonus.
While I fully support and follow catch-and-release philosophies on many species of fish, there are other fish that may need to be harvested to maintain a healthy population.
Crappie are a prolific panfish, widely distributed and fun to catch and eat! (ODFW photo)
Crappie are a prolific panfish, widely distributed and fun to catch and eat! (ODFW photo)
Always follow local laws, of course, but there are many species of panfish you can harvest, eat and enjoy without guilt.
Crappie are a prolific panfish that are available virtually anywhere. I've caught them through the ice, or with a cane pole and crickets on blistering hot Mississippi afternoons.
My favorite crappie rig, is a six-to-seven foot spinning rod, with a small to medium spinning reel. Four-to-six pound line, depending on the conditions, should be about right.
My go-to crappie lure is a 1/16 or 1/8-ounce lead head jig, with a two-inch yellow Mister Twister grub body. Using that combination, I caught crappie all down the Mississippi River. (To view the story of my journey, click on Mississippi River Canoe trip.)
Obviously, variations of color and jig head size abound, but I start out with this combination and usually don't have to do much switching to get into the fish.
The flesh of a crappie is delectable and is a favorite for fish fries. But sometimes, you want some variety, and that's where this chowder recipes comes in. Substitute canned milk for fresh and Half-and-Half, and you can make this recipe on a river bank or in a fishing camp. You could even substitute dehydrated onions, potatoes and corn, and canned butter and make this recipe entirely out of storage foods and fresh fish fillets.
Crappie Chowder
10 crappie fillets (or about 1-1/2 lbs of any firm, white fish. Catfish works very well!)
4 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
3 medium potatoes, cubed (Yukon Gold or white potatoes are best. They stay firm and don't cook down to mush)
4 c milk
1/2 c. Half-and-Half
1 tsp Old Bay(trademark) seafood seasoning
1 12-oz. can whole kernel corn (fresh sweet corn is best, if available)
salt and pepper
  Melt butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about four minutes. Remove onions from skillet. Pan-sear crappie fillets for about one minute on each side. Remove fillets from skillet, and cut into small squares.
Add potatoes and onions and cook, stirring frequently for about five minutes or until they begin to soften. Stir in enough cold water to cover potatoes, cover, bring to a boil, add Old Bay seasoning and cook for about 10 minutes. Add fish to potatoes and cook seven minutes on a slow boil. Add milk and Half-and-Half, stir and heat until very hot, but do not allow it to boil. Season with salt and pepper.

How to cook salmon in the traditional Indian way

This traditional method of cooking salmon around a campfire can also be used for meat.
by Leon Pantenburg

Last weekend, I had the honor of starting the fire for the annual Salmon Bake at Central Oregon Community College. I used the flint and steel method, with indigenous tinder and wood. (Murphy stayed away: I got the fire going with no problem.) In many tribes, starting the fire for a ceremony is part of the tradition.
celilo falls 2
Celilo Falls, on the Columbia River, about 1900. Settlements in the area go back at least 15,000 years. (Oregon Historical Society photos)

The idea behind the COCC salmon bake was to recreate, as much as possible, a gathering that would celebrate the return of the salmon upstream.
Salmon were as important to the northwest indigenous people as the buffalo were to the tribes on the plains. The annual salmon run, when the fish returned upstream to spawn, was eagerly anticipated by the residents. For the duration of the run, which could be several weeks, the people harvested salmon, dried the flesh and socialized.
See the how-to video below
That tradition ended in the 1970s when the Bonneville Lock and Dam system flooded the Celilo Falls on the Columbia River.
"Celilo" is the name of a series of cascades and waterfalls on the river, as well as to the native settlements and trading villages that existed there in various configurations for 15,000 years.
All that remains of the salmon community is memories. One way to keep those memories alive is through the ceremonies and gatherings, such as the COCC Salmon Bake.
Every year, the Native American Club at the college hosts the Salmon Bake, which features dancing, story telling and the keynote salmon feast.
The head cook for the event was Geraldine Jim, 75, ably assisted by her husband Wilford. Geraldine, of Warm Springs, Oregon, learned how to cook salmon from her grandmother, and the recipe and technique goes back thousands of years.
salmon fishing at Celilo falls
Celilo Falls was the site of massive salmon runs, where the fish would concentrate on their way upstream to spawn

The technique is simple, Geraldine Jim said, and relies on some skill and the correct types of wood.
Here's what you need, according to Jim:
  • A campfire made of hardwood. Alder is preferred, Jim said, because pine or other soft woods will smoke and cause the salmon to blacken with soot and taste bad.
  • Hardwood sticks, about three feet long and slightly curved. The bark should be removed.
  • Skewers, about 12 inched long, and about 1/8-inch think.
  • Filleted salmon with the skin still on.
  • Lay the fillet skin side down, and insert the long stick next to the skin and push it through.
  • Pin the fillet on the stick by pushing the skewer through the skin, through the flesh, then through the skin on the other side. Break off the ends of the skewers so they don't catch fire.
  • Place the end of the stick in the dirt next to the fire. The distance from the end of the fillet and the ground should be about two hand widths.
  • Slightly tip the top of the fillet toward the fire. The fillet should be about two to three feet from the fire.
  • Cook about 45 minutes to an hour. When the fish is done, the skin will be dry.
Remove and feast. The taste is incredible, and unlike anything you've probably ever eaten. Until you've tried this, you only think you've eaten good salmon.