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May 21, 2007

The Yellow Perch and the Energy Mavens


One of the great frauds perpetrated on the eating public is the labeling of the yellow perch as a panfish. 

It’s obvious how this happened. The yellow perch is small enough that one can easily be covered in corn meal and cooked in a frying pan in a fisherman’s campsite. And, like other panfish, it is small enough that several must be eaten before any neutral observer would certify it a meal of reasonable size. (Some argue that eating one is a matter of economy, but they have probably expended four times more energy than what they     gained . . .  a deficit energy expenditure that, if continued, would land them soon in eating’s version of bankruptcy – starvation.) 

But what sets apart the yellow perch? Only someone who’s never eaten yellow perch would ask that. Feel free to snub anyone who asks it, and take the next opportunity to ridicule them in public. Tough love still has its place. 

Suffice to say that the yellow perch is a frequent meal of its cousin, the larger and equally delectable walleye. As mom used to say, if you want to know where to eat, follow the truckers. Or was it, don’t eat the berries the birds won’t? Anyway, if you want to know which fish to eat, ask another fish. Or, in the event of an insurmountable communications barrier, eat what they eat (it is through this that we now know the common earthworm to be wholly underappreciated as food). 

There are many ways to cook yellow perch. The simplest is to throw them into a pot of boiling water, pull out when white and curled, and eat them with cocktail sauce like they are common shrimp (shrimp, the worms of saltwater fishing . . . think about it, won’t you?). 

This might go over well as an appetizer, but a guest might look at a pile of boiled perch and, not recognizing that you could dredge it through the water pooled up in the bottom of your garbage can and it would still taste delicious, wonder whether you could be taken seriously as a person. (If they’ve never eaten perch, remember to return the favor, loudly and publicly.) 

If avoiding social unpleasantries is your bag, and bless you if it is, then split the difference by placing yellow perch fillets skin side down in a baking dish. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. 

In a small dish, blend together breadcrumbs and shredded Parmesan cheese (if kick is your thing, consider shredded Romano cheese). Some people might tell you that breadcrumbs must be toasted. And, certainly, going by the standards of fairy tales, the bread is typically hardened by removing all moisture. However, you are advised to use the still-good end of a bread loaf for crumbs. 

What’s the difference? If you have a tongue adept at noticing subtle differences in texture, you will be rewarded. But, there is no point torturing people without skilled tongues by identifying what they’re missing out on. If life can be cruel, then sometimes it is not. This is one of those times. 

Once blended, add ground black pepper and perhaps chopped fresh parsley. You might consider some fresh thyme or even a little grated lemon peel (emphasis on little, since breaking the fine line between enough and too much means allowing your fish to be overwhelmed by an invasion of citrus). By all means, when feeling froggy, jump. 

Cover your fish with your crumb-cheese mixture, and over the top drizzle melted butter. If you have skipped the lemon peel, and still want to hop aboard the citrus train, consider adding a drop or two of fresh lemon juice to the butter. 

Pop the baking pan into the oven, and wait until the fish flakes easily with a fork. How much time will this take? Don’t get so wrapped up in specifics that you miss the big picture. You want fish that is cooked properly, not punctual. If you insist on going out and running errands with your dinner cooking in the oven, you have maybe 15 minutes. 

A quick warning here: When you lay your fish in the pan and cover it with your crumb-cheese blend, you might say to yourself, “There is a lot there. Perhaps the raving derelict yelling at cars on the street corner would like a home-cooked meal, too.” However, the fillets will shrink, and too many mouths could send you towards an energy deficit that, left unchecked, will land you in bankruptcy. 

© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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