I really do wish my mom would stop correcting my memory every time I try to tell a compelling and nostalgic story. Saying “That’s not how it happened.” Or, “You didn’t even live in that house then — you were only 5.” Blah blah blah. Like HER memory is all perfect. Actually, her memory is pretty good. It’s in the fleshing out of details where she fails. As in, she makes them up and then argues with you, when you were usually the person who told her the story in the first place. In other words: she tells your own story back to you with all kinds of colorful yet completely inaccurate details. Then argues with you about it.
Yes, yes. I realize now that I’m basically writing about myself.
Are you listening Morgan Menke? This is your future.
Anyway. One of these vivid memories is of eating baked, stuffed northern (fish) and actually liking it. I wasn’t much of a fish lover as a kid. I did love shrimp, crab and lobster — much to my dad’s displeasure — and I tried to order it every time we were out for dinner.
Remember Mr. Steak? Let me just say: their deep fried shrimp was sublime. [It was also the most expensive thing on the menu.]
And the reason I remember the stuffed northern was because it tasted so mild and we ate it with melted butter. It tasted more like lobster than fish. Of course, I didn’t TOUCH the disgusting pile of stuffing baked under it. So gross.
It has been years and years since we had northern prepared this way — 35? More?
So: my mom and dad have had a dear friend staying with them in Hayward and… he LOVES to fish. What has me scratching my head, though, is that he is actually catching fish. Dave fishes that same lake with dogged determination and has been largely unsuccessful. [Dave calls Round Lake The Dead Sea.]
And now we find out that it isn’t?
Is Dave boating around the corner and napping, rather than fishing?
It is not unlikely.
Anyway, somehow Stan even got my mom into the fishing boat, which I am trying hard to even picture. I have never seen her fish. I know she was there, though, because I got this picture in my inbox a couple weeks ago:
She not only reeled it in successfully, but she held it for a picture. Crazy times. [The trouble was in trying to get one of my parents to send it to me at a size larger than a postage stamp. Since you are looking at it and it is the size of a postage stamp, you will have realized that I was unsuccessful.]
Then I got word that we were having it baked and stuffed over the fourth of July. I immediately shared the good news with Dave, who was completely baffled since he had never had it — or even heard of it — prepared this way.
I always thought the recipe was handed down lovingly on my dad’s side by my Grandma Esther. In fact, I was saying this very thing to Dave while my mom was within earshot and she nearly jumped down my throat, saying “That wasn’t Grandma Esther’s recipe!” [The printed word can’t actually convey how strongly she objected to this startling bit of apparent misinformation.]
It was an easy mistake to make. My Grandma Esther practically lived on fish and wild game. She was a bit of a renegade (and illegal poacher) and larger than life in my memory. She is also the one who taught me how to make popcorn balls, which live on at our house — and on my hips — year after year. I only remember eating this fish recipe at my grandparent’s cabin on Roosevelt Lake, where I’m pretty sure she fished the lake dry of big northerns. There was always a big cane pole baited with a perch (illegal) stuck into the pipe at the end of the dock and left out overnight (also illegal) hoping to snag a big one. Sometimes we would wake to find a northern. Sometimes we would wake to find a snapping turtle that ate the northern that ate the perch. One time, she made soup out one of those snapping turtles. I will not be sharing that recipe.
The recipe apparently came, not from my grandma, but from an old neighbor of my parents. Carol Feck, to be exact. My parents also neglected to ever write the recipe down.
We found a very close version of what they remembered the recipe to be in a very old forum discussion and went from there. It turned out delicious — though my dad wished he would have taken it out of the oven a little earlier.
Here is the process:
First you need a big-ass northern. Like 27″ or more. Why? I don’t know why. But that’s what my parents say and that’s also what all the discussions on the internet say. Maybe it’s a myth. Maybe it makes the recipe more special. I just don’t know so stop asking.
Don’t fillet the fish. Instead, gut it and scale it. I wasn’t there for that part, so I can’t give any details. Basically you don’t try to Y-bone it or fillet it — just gut and scale.
Make your preferred stuffing recipe. Stovetop will work or make what you do at Thanksgiving. Salt the cavity of the fish. Stuff with the dressing. Sew up the fish and place it on a foil lined baking sheet. Cover the fish with bacon and bake at 400 until internal temp is 140 degrees (1-3 hours depending on size).
When it’s done, carefully remove skin (it will peel off fairly easily). The fish should be flaky and opaque and lift away from the bones without much effort. Remove the pieces of fish to a serving platter leaving the bones in place.
You will be left with the fish skeleton over the dressing. Carefully lift that up and discard it.
Scoop the stuffing (which looks absolutely disgusting, but now — miraculously! –tastes delicious to these 50 year old tastebuds — or maybe it’s my bad eyesight,who’s to say) into a serving bowl. Serve the fish with lots of lemon wedges and melted butter.
I can say with certainty that it satisfied this group of Namekagon River tubers: