Caught by the River

Nick's Pics

Nick Small | 14th July 2011

Pike. Words & picture by Nick Small.

“perfect Pike in all parts” *

Pike really would be the perfect fish to eat, were it not for the rather irritating, secondary set of fine “Y” shaped bones along its flanks. The French, who know a thing or two about food, love to eat Pike. I do too….though the locals up in Sweden are more likely to discard the dead corpse amongst the reeds than wrap it in foil with garlic and butter. Young Pike are best. Anything over 5 or 6 pounds is likely to have acquired a slightly earthy taste, but I suppose Pike are a product of their environment. If you pull one from a muddy canal, it’s likely to be less appealing than this specimen, rudely taken from this pristine lake of sub-arctic melt-water.

The flesh of the Pike is as white and flaky as you could wish for: like freshwater cod or haddock. It tastes fine on its own, but delicately flavour it with garlic, butter and herbs of your choice and it really is delicious. So what to do about those bones? There are large portions of the flesh which come away cleanly, and which do not contain the dreaded “Y” bones. These can be served up like fish steaks. The flesh doesn’t take a lot of cooking….just until opaque is best.

It’s easy to remove the large sections of flank which contain the “Y” bones from the main skeleton….then simply break it up into small flakes with your fingers and a couple of forks. There follows the rather painstaking job of picking out the “Y” bones as you find them. If you are thorough, you are left with a mound of lovely white, flaky flesh which you can gently warm up again in a flat pan. Squeeze over some lemon…job done.

This is an old snap. I dug it out because I long to be on that lakeside beach right now. You’ll notice that there is a conveniently placed outdoor kitchen. The Swedes are good like that. Not only have they enshrined in law the right of all men to roam freely to discover these beautiful spots, regardless of land ownership; they are also happy to create barbecue places with lean-to log shelters and well stocked firewood stores in appropriately attractive locations. Sometimes these “fire places” are no more than a section of concrete pipe filled with sand but, more often than not, you’ll find well constructed grills, which swivel over the cooking fire at different levels. Nature provides the willow and myrtle branches which can be sharpened to hold sausages over the flame. These fire places are everywhere….beaches, lay-bys, river banks….there to be shared and enjoyed by whosoever drops by. I’ve often thought that it would be great if these barbecue places were commonplace in our own beauty spots. The thought that followed was a depressing one.

* From “Pike” by Ted Hughes. Read it here

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