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December 20, 2001

Plains Folk: Perch Eggs

Tom Isern, Professor of History
North Dakota State University

 

Today we strike another blow in the cause for a regional cuisine, in a manner appropriate to the season. I do not mean the holiday season. I mean the ice fishing season.

The truth is out: I fish on ice. This is cause for about 80 percent of the population to consider me a moron and for about 20 percent to embrace me in fraternal fashion. Of these quite a few are middle-aged white males who regard staring at a hole as an opportunity for critical life-review.

What saves me from all that is the material aspect of the craft. On the front end there is the technology of staying warm. On the back end there are the filets–lots of them, as during this wet time on northern plains, the magical conversion of dry beds and salty sloughs into fertile fisheries presents us with an embarrassment of riches.

Yellow perch are the finest filets for frying, and I am fortunate already to have filled the sink with them–including some bona fide 2-pounders–a couple of times this season. Here, though, is the culinary opportunity of moment: winter perch are full of eggs.

Embrace the opportunity. I know that about 90 percent of the 20 percent who started out with me in this column have dropped off now, but bear with me. Here are three propositions for you to try, all alliterative, for easy remembrance.

First, perch-egg pasta. Come on now, you’ve had various seafood pastas, this isn’t all that weird, and it’s easy. Just begin with some hot oil in a skillet, into which you press more than a few cloves of garlic. Next add your seasoning of choice–my default seasoning in such matters is a canister of herbs de provence.

Now you’re ready for the roe. Squeeze the orange-gray eggs from the egg sack into the skillet and cook them for a minute or less, because they’re tiny. Salt lightly; add white wine. Let this simmer down, and serve it over vermicelli. The perch-egg flavor is somehow assertive and delicate at the same time. You will amaze your friends.

Second proposition: perch-egg quiche. Disregard the male aversion to quiche; just call it perch-egg pie and they won’t know what they’re eating. Also, put a regular lard pie crust under it, not that flaky European cardboard pastry. Remember that to a lot of us guys around here "flaky European" is a redundant phrase.

Once again, it’s easy. Get your crust arranged in the dish and grate in some Swiss cheese. Atop this scatter a saute of chopped onion and perch eggs, seasoned according to taste. (A Greek herb mix proved good for me.) Now pour in the chicken-egg mix. (Here’s a tip: beat the eggs with a dollop of sour cream instead of milk, and they cook up fluffy and impressive.) Dust the pie with paprika, mainly for looks, and bake it, heck, I don’t know how long, until it looks right and firms up.

OK, I may have lost some of you again with the quiche, but now I’ll reel you back in with an entry-level proposition for using roe: perch puppies. These are just hush puppies with perch eggs.

I fry fish breaded with a mix of cornmeal, flour, salt, and Old Bay seasonings. To make perch puppies, add chopped onion and plenty of perch eggs to the left-over cornmeal mix. Beat in an egg or two, and then moisten the mix as necessary with beer. Fry wads of this stuff after your perch filets. They come out golden. There will be no complaints about perch puppies, except from hopeless culinary weenies, and it’s time we left them behind.

Here’s the final appeal, to me, of perch-egg cookery: it cannot be commercialized. It is illegal to trade in game or fish taken from the wild. This is going to be our own deal. Go for it.

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Source: Tom Isern, (701) 799-2941, tom@plainsfolk.com 
Editor: Gary Moran, (701) 231-7865, gmoran@ndsuext.nodak.edu 

 

Tom IsernClick here for a TIF photo of Tom Isern that is suitable for printing. 
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