In addition to skis, the other piece of sporting equipment that I brought to Sweden was my lovingly cared for, Swedish made, ultra-light fishing rod and reel, purchased twenty years ago. I knew northern Sweden would have good fishing with arctic char, various species of trout, perch, pike, grayling and whitefish inhabiting the many streams and clear lakes. With temperatures occasionally in the mid 70s and all the daylight you could ask for, fishing seemed like a good way to start the summer.
Following a tip from my old boss OT Utsi, Amanda and I drove about 20 miles north to a place where the roaring Muddus River empties into the much larger, dam-controlled and placid Lule River. OT said it was a good place to catch gädda (Northern Pike), which are ferocious fish with hundreds of teeth, a long body, and an aggressive attitude. Northern Pike can be found in many northern states in the US, and they have a firm white flesh and lots of bones. We discovered that gädda are not a much appreciated fish for the table in Sweden. Years ago people ate them, but now they are often fed to dogs or thrown back.
A few friends joined us at the fishing spot, as well as a group of 3 middle-aged men and two boys who had established a decent sized camp, complete with circus tent and motorboat. We began fishing immediately, and only a few minutes later our friend Mattias hooked and landed a thrashing 7 lb gädda. To remove the hook requires needle-nose pliers, lest one sacrifice a couple of fingers to the toothy beast. I rushed over to see what was happening. Mattias, slightly disgusted by the fish, was keen to get rid of it as quickly as possible, but I asked if I could keep it to make the famous French dish “quenelles de brochet” translated to the less illustrious sounding “pike-balls” in English. Both the other fishermen and Mattias looked at me a skeptically, confused as to why I would want such a fish.
One thing I will say about Amanda is that she learns quickly. Her first cast, after a few years out of practice, didn’t even go towards the water and actually required a little bouldering to get the lure back. Ten minutes later she was reeling in a beautiful perch, colored like a parrot (if parrots lived in kind of murky water). Perch are much appreciated for their taste and excellent texture.
We made a fire and roasted sausages on sticks, cooked eggplant and spring onions in the coals, and drank a refreshing beer. Later I hooked a perch and another large pike which I almost landed but it freed itself from becoming the inevitable “quenelle” right at the last moment. My arm ached carrying back our catch.
Back home I filleted the two perch and started in on the tricky and large gädda. I watched a French YouTube video about how to remove all the bones, which helped considerably. Later I found a Swedish video which is much funnier, even if you can’t understand anything he says (watch it here). After a good bit of work I finally had two large completely boneless filets, ready to be made into delicious quenelles de brochet.
That evening we dined on the exquisite perch filets. We ate them as they are traditionally prepared in France “filets de perche meuniere” simply lightly dusted in flour and then fried in butter and served with a little parsley, lemon, and new potatoes. For contrast I also cooked a piece of the gädda using the same preparation. The gädda was good, slightly crispy and browned with very white mild tasting flesh. The perch was superb, a firm texture, delicate flavor, and clean taste: the clear winner.
Recipe for Filets de Perche Meuniere
1.5lbs perch filets
Salt and pepper
Flour for dusting
4 T butter
Season perch filets with salt and pepper. Place flour in shallow bowl and dredge filets, lighly covering with flour and shaking off excess. Heat large heavy bottomed frying pan over medium heat. Add 2T butter and when it foams add filets in one layer. Cook about 3-5 minutes until nicely browned on bottom, flip and cook 3 minutes more until browned on both sides, adding remaining butter in chunks. Serve with a sprinkling of parsley and a wedge of lemon with potatoes or rice.
The French dish “quenelles de brochet” comes from the Lyon region where the brochet (gädda, northern pike) are plentiful. Small pike can be grilled, roasted, pan fried, or poached whole and served with a beurre blanc or in white wine. Some people find this fish to have a silty taste, not unlike dirt, though apparently this is more common with very big fish (10 pounds and up) in warm muddy ponds. In any event the French created these dumplings (quenelles) hundreds of years ago by combining finely ground pike with flour, milk, butter, nutmeg, and fresh eggs. The dumplings are carefully poached and then finished in the oven, often served with a sauce nantua, made from crayfish.
Translation of the recipe I used for Quenelles de Brochet
Makes 12 large quenelles
200g All purpose flour
1 cup milk
Fresh grating of nutmeg (about 1/4tsp)
4 fresh eggs
200g finely ground (meat grinder with smallest die, or pulsed in food processor) boneless pike (or othe firm textured, affordable, white fish)
Heat the milk and 25g of the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Grate about ¼tsp fresh nutmeg into the mixture. When the butter has melted add the flour and stir well to avoid lumps. Continue cooking over low heat until the dough has thickened, dried a bit, and is not sticking to the sides of the pan. Let cool several hours or overnight.
Using a mixer or food processor, combine the cooled dough with 100g softened butter, the eggs, and then the ground pike. Season with salt and pepper. The mixture should be very fine with no lumps. Let rest and cool at least 2 hours or overnight.
Boil a large stockpot full of salted water. Make quenelles (spoon shaped dumplings) by using two large spoons. Use one spoon to scoop the pike mixture and then transfer it to the other spoon using a scraping motion. Continue doing this until you have a smooth dumpling with three sides. Slip the dumping carefully into the boiling water and continue with this process until all the dumplings are poaching. Poach for 12-15 minutes. The dumplings will puff up and float.
Scoop out the dumplings with a slotted spoon, drain them and space them out in a baking dish. Cover with a sauce (a béchamel made with crayfish is common (sauce nantua), but onions, tomatoes, and white wine would also be delicious). Put the baking dish in a preheated 375F degree oven for about 10 minutes. The dumplings will puff even more and then should be eaten immediately before they deflate!
You can find the original recipe I used along with a bit more history about the Quenelles de Brochet here.