Joe can’t get enough of fishing, especially now that we’ve moved to the Tetons where the fishing is incredible. Any chance he has, he gets out to some body of water to fish. Now that every body of water around us is frozen solid except the Gros Ventre River and the Snake River, his options are limited. Fishing regulations have also reduced the places where you can take fish and the species you can take. No Cutthroat Trout for the taking this time of year, so we’ll “have to settle” for the ubiquitous Mountain Whitefish. I write “have to settle” in quotation marks as Whitefish tend to have a pretty boring reputation as compared to other fish species in the area; however, we have found them to be a fun fish to catch and a delicious fish to eat.
Mountain Whitefish seem to have more bone than meat for a given size and their rather bland flavor lends itself to some spicing up. We tried them in lemon parsley fish cakes (recipe here) on the winter solstice and they were fantastic. Upon recalling that northern Europeans and Midwesterners love to pickle fish, especially species such as Herring and Northern Pike, we did some more research and found some great resources for how to pickle Whitefish. This guy Kevin’s website was our main pickled Whitefish resource.
So here’s what we did: The first time (yes, we’re already onto our second batch), Joe went to a special spot along the Gros Ventre River where many of us used to jump off the rocks and into the water during the hot temperatures of the early fall.
Next, Joe caught his creel limit of whitefish.
Then we returned home and Joe began the lengthy and exhausting process of filleting them. They become more mucus-y when dead.
Then began the pickling process:
1. Fillet cleanly, but don’t worry about all the pin bones; they dissolve during the pickling process.
2. Cut fish into bite-sized pieces (eating a huge piece of pickled fish on a cracker can be overwhelming).
3. Add cut up fish to a big container of brine (we use a big glass jar to minimize exchange of smells or chemicals) : 1 C salt to 5 C water for 3-4 fish, according to that Kevin guy. We found that the brine ratio is basically as much salt as can be dissolved into water–any less water will not allow the salt to dissolve.
4. Let the fish (which should be fully covered in the brine) soak in the brine in the refrigerator for 4 full days. Here’s what it looks like after about a day:
5. After those 4 days of brining go by, drain the fish and cover them in white vinegar. Let soak in the vinegar in the refrigerator for an additional 4 days.
6. At some point during those last 4 days while the Whitefish is soaking in the vinegar, make a pickling solution: 1.5 C white sugar, 2 C white vinegar, 2 tbsp. of pickling spice (or spices of your choice–we find the pickling spice you buy in stores perfect for this). Chill in the fridge so that when the fish is ready, it’ll have a cold pickling solution ready for it.
7. After the 4 days that the Whitefish is in the vinegar, drain the fish. We added a slice of onion to the bottom of each pint sized jar (we found that 6 fish makes about 5 pints of pickled fish), then alternated tightly packed layers of fish with slices of onion until we almost filled the top. Make sure to leave some space at the top that the pickling solution will fill.
8. Once all the jars are tightly packed with the onions and fish, pour the pickling solution into each jar, making sure to cover all the fish. Screw the lids on the jars, place jars in fridge, and leave the jars of pickling fish alone in the fridge for at least one week.
9. You can start eating it after one week goes by, though we found the flavor even better after two weeks. Pickled whitefish is great on a cracker.
Thanks to Kevin Kossowan for the recipe!