NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665
September 7, 2000
Often I think, while reeling in yet another 2-pound white bass, people on the northern plains don't know what they have here. If folks in states like Texas or Oklahoma, where the fish are prized, could get into the easy white bass fishing we find on the northern reservoirs, there would be a silver rush.
The odd thing is that northern folk don't think white bass are good to eat. The truth is, most of us around here don't like fish. That's why we eat walleye, which is the chicken of the freshwaterit tastes like what you put on it.
Since I'm not supposed to be anybody's outdoor writer, I'll get around to what is supposed to be my usual subject, life and living well on the plains. One thing we need in order to define a richer regional life is a regional cuisine, and when something is abundant in the region, like white bass, then it ought to be incorporated into the cuisine. I'll tell you how.
First, accept the ideas that not all fish have to be fried and that white bass are not frying fish. They are splendid grilled, however, with the simplest preparation. Just fillet the fish, salt and pepper them, and rub them with Old Bay spices or lemon pepper, depending on your taste. Then pour some canola oil on them and let them sit while you fire up your grill. Heat an iron griddle on the grill and cook the oiled fillets until just done. Serve with your best garden vegetables.
Another possibility is fishcakesnot much known this far from the coast. Start out with a food processor, shredding a pound of potatoes and a large onion. Put a pound of white bass fillets in last and shred them, not too fine. Season and salt the mix and add the binder2 eggs and a couple tablespoons flour. Pat the mix into cakes and fry in hot oil. My Lotte has perfected this operation.
White bass have an assertive but clean fish flavor that fills the cakes. They are best served with some appropriate sauce, which brings me to my next subjectsandhill salsa.
We ought to be taking advantage of the native plums that mature in August on the northern plains. The plums here, Prunus americana, are not as good for jelly as those of the south, Prunus angustifolia (the sandhill plum), but they are superior for other uses.
You probably know by now that fruit salsas are all the rage on the west coast. As our regional contribution to the salsa craze, I offer sandhill salsa. It can be made either from sandhill plums or from the northern natives, which I generally pick from the Sheyenne National Grassland, so they are still sandhill plums to me.
I'm not going to attempt specifications as to proportions, because I know if you have the guts to try this, then you're a good enough cook to work them out to suit yourself. Start by buzzing a couple of big green chiles, a large onion, a lot of garlic, and plenty of cilentro in your food processor. Last, add the plums, pitted, of course.
Here's a hint as to pitting. Native plums are not free-stone fruits. You can extract the pits easily, though, if you heat the plums, so that the centers get mushy. A microwave works fine for this.
Finish the salsa off with salt, pepper, sugar (taste to see how much), and generous shakes of cumin.
Sandhill salsa is particularly good with pork or fowl. OrI tried it just this eveningit can serve as the sauce on your basscakes.
Here's a final word to all my fellow Lutherans on the plains: it's all right to eat well. Don't feel bad about it. Go ahead, try it. And maybe, let's envision a day when people will come to the northern plains to eat.
Source: Tom Isern, (701) 231-8339
Editor: Gary Moran, (701) 231-7865
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