Article published March 24, 2009
Serve Walleye as an appetizer or an entree
By KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR
Walleye season in Ohio begins in Toledo on the Maumee River when the fishermen brave the cold weather and water, put on their waders, and throw their lines into the water.
The successful fishermen bring the walleye home, then scale, clean, fillet, and cook them fresh or freeze them for later use.
For those of us who don’t have someone to provide walleye, local restaurants have some of the best in the Midwest.
In March, when Webber’s Waterfront Restaurant in Point Place re-opened after a winter hiatus, fried or broiled walleye fillet dinners at $16.99 each were once again prepared. Most of the Lake Erie Canadian fillets are 10 to 12 ounces, according to owner Larry Merryman.
He uses a homemade batter. “I got the recipe from Bob Webber, whose parents started this place in 1933,” said Mr. Merryman. He and his wife, Becky, bought the restaurant from Mr. Webber in 1980.
At Webber’s the fish is battered, breaded, and then deep-fried for seven minutes. If the walleye are broiled, they are flavored with butter and seasoning and cooked for seven minutes. He estimates they serve 150 to 200 pounds per week.
Whole walleye are harder to get from suppliers, he says. So the sport fishermen may be a good source right now for the whole fish. Once you catch the fish, ice it down immediately and then scale and clean it. “First make sure you have a deep-fryer big enough to hold the fish,” said Mr. Merryman. “You should fillet it. We skin ours.”
If you buy walleye fillets to cook, “look for nice pink glossy color,” said Mr. Merryman.
Other local restaurants featuring walleye include Bayshore Supper Club in Oregon. They serve fillet platters at lunch or whole or fillet walleye dinners in the evening (fillets are about 6 to 8 ounces each). The whole walleye at about a pound are cooked with bone-in and have more flavor, according to owner Sonny Berry.
The Seafood restaurant in Sylvania serves walleye (also called pickerel) at lunch and dinner.
Although local restaurants have walleye year-round, the season opens in May.
That’s when Susie Cork, general manager of Shaw’s Restaurant and Inn in Lancaster, Ohio, holds a three-week Walleye Fest from May 1 to 21. Down in southern Ohio, she holds the festival to coincide with the walleye “running” in Lake Erie, when they can get the fish fresh.
While Mr. Merryman at Webber’s stands by his classics of fried and broiled walleye, Ms. Cork of Shaw’s has a walleye appetizer and three different walleye entrees each week that range from $22 to $24 each.
“It’s challenging to come up with new entrees,” said the chef in a phone interview, who uses 6 to 8-ounce fillets. “We always do a fried walleye because people like walleye that way.”
Last year, the chef who was trained at Kendall College in Chicago held a walleye cooking class, and among the recipes was Hazelnut Crusted Walleye with Balsamic Brown Butter Sauce.
Walleye is a mild fish, so “don’t overwhelm it with a strong sauce,” said Ms. Cork, who cooks it five minutes on each side. “It’s done when it’s translucent to opaque.”
This year she’s planned a May 30 class, Crabelicious, which features Crab Cakes with Key Lime Aioli, Crab Hushpuppies with homemade Tartar Sauce, and Crab-Topped Cajun Walleye with Remoulade. The $45 class is held from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the inn. For information, call 800-654-2477.
As for the Walleye Fest, Week One (May 1-7) features an appetizer of Walleye Bites Tempura with Ponzu Sauce. The entrees include pan-seared walleye with roasted shallot butter and frizzled leeks and Walleye Oscar topped with asparagus, crab, and hollandaise.
For Week Two (May 8-14), she will feature Corn Cakes topped with Crispy Walleye & Corn Cream appetizer. Entrees include Cajun Panko Crusted Walleye topped with Fried Oysters and Remoulade and a Macadamia Crusted Walleye with Roasted Pineapple Butter.
The appetizer for Week Three (May 15-21) is Walleye Fritters with Lemon Thyme Aioli. Entrees include Panko Crusted Walleye with Toasted Almond Butter and Walleye Topped with Crawfish Remoulade.
Cooking at home
Ms. Cork certainly gives fishermen plenty of ideas for cooking their catch of walleye. But here’s one more.
Several weeks ago, when I talked with cookbook author Beatrice Ojakangas about The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever (Chronicle, $24.95), she noted an unusual Walleye and Green Chile Casserole. She writes, “I had my doubts when I paired it (walleye) with green chiles, but the result was a very fine casserole.”
According to cookbook author Lee Svitak Dean of Minnesota in Come One, Come All (Minnesota Historical Society Press, $29.95), fillet sizes vary at the market from 2 to 3 ounces to half-pound fillets in. She thinks smaller fillets are more tender and flavorful than their larger counterparts. Walleye with Pecan-Dill Butter is a sauteed fish finished with a pat of Pecan-Dill Butter.
If you can’t do the restaurant scene, then the next best thing is to cook your own walleye. If you know a fisherman, make him or her your best friend.