Pickerel is a firm, white fleshed, mild tasting, good eating fish! You may be disagreeing as you read this with thoughts of lots of bones, especially the ‘Y bones”, but it is possible to fillet pickerel and pike fish in a way that leaves only boneless fillets. Pike and pickerel are fun to catch this time of year in fresh water fisheries. This adaptation of a classic French recipe creates creamy, crisp fried fish cakes or croquettes. Croquette from the French croquer, “to crunch”, is basically minced meat and/or vegetables bound together with a béchamel sauce, formed into small rounds or cylinders, coated in bread crumbs and fried. Crab Cakes could be considered croquettes. This recipe works great with most fish and offers the opportunity to pick out any bones missed in the filleting process, which is important with pickerel. Enjoy!
Pickerel Fish Croquettes
1 lb. skinless pickerel fillets (from about 2 fish)
1.5 cups milk
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 minced shallot or 1/3 cup minced sweet onion
1 large clove garlic, minced
Handful parsley, finely chopped, about 4 Tbsp.
Fresh chives or dill if available, finely chopped, about 2 Tbsp.
1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest, lemon wedges for serving
Salt, pepper, and Old Bay to taste
3 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. flour
¾ cup breadcrumbs (panko)
Heat the milk in a large skillet, season with a pinch of salt and white pepper (or black pepper), and add the fish fillets in a single layer. Cover and cook the fish (poach) over low heat for 3 to 4 minutes until fish has turned white and can be flaked with a fork. Transfer the fish with a slotted spoon to a deep plate.
Put about 1Tbsp olive oil in a large fry pan over medium heat. Add the shallot (or onion) and garlic. Sauté a few minutes then add the parsley and chive. Remove the pan from the heat.
In the same fry pan that is now empty of onion and garlic, melt 2 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Whisk in 4 Tbsp. flour to form a roux (paste). Slowly pour about ¾ cup of the reserved milk into the roux, whisking to incorporate. The mixture should be thick. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper (maybe a pinch of nutmeg). This classic mixture is a béchamel sauce. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool down slightly before whisking in an egg. Whisk until smooth.
Mix the fish into the béchamel sauce. You may need to refrigerate the mixture for about 30 minutes to make it a bit easier to work with. Place the bread crumbs on a plate and season with salt, pepper, and Old Bay seasoning. Form the fish mixture into patties, small balls, or cylinders. The mixture will be soft so work carefully to keep their shape. Roll these fish croquettes in the seasoned bread crumbs to evenly coat.