[Editor’s Note: Finding ways to find natural food sources and using up every bit will not only enhance our preparedness skills, but also help us create a more frugal lifestyle in the process. Fish is one of the most readily available wild protein sources and homesteader, Ruby Burks provides some very sound advice on how to add these last food bits to make delicious meals.]
Periodically, I need to go through our freezers and cook or can up the food items that I just didn’t have time to get to during their season and to take stock of what got pushed to the back. Today, I’m concentrating on all the fish.
Fish is an important part of our diet here (and taking a day off to go fishing is an important part of our mental health!) and we try to be as conscientious about eating nose to tail to reduce food and money waste with fish as we are with all of our other foods. However, I don’t always have time to preserve every part of the fish as soon as we bring it home. So, like the ingredients for other meat-based stocks and broths, trimmings from the fish, including the heads, go into freezer bags to accumulate until I have enough to fill a stockpot, pressure can, or smoke.
There’s plenty of scientific evidence to prove that eating fish has many health benefits. From Harvard School of Public Health:
Fish and other seafood are the major sources of healthful long-chain omega-3 fats and are also rich in other nutrients such as vitamin D and selenium, high in protein, and low in saturated fat. There is strong evidence that eating fish or taking fish oil is good for the heart and blood vessels. An analysis of 20 studies involving hundreds of thousands of participants indicates that eating approximately one to two 3-ounce servings of fatty fish a week—salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, or sardines—reduces the risk of dying from heart disease by 36 percent.
Eating fish fights heart disease in several ways…Both observational studies and controlled trials have also demonstrated that the omega-3 fats in fish are important for optimal development of a baby’s brain and nervous system, and that the children of women who consume lower amounts of fish or omega-3’s during pregnancy and breast-feeding have evidence of delayed brain development.”
Unfortunately, fish can be crazy expensive for most people, especially if you’re among the Broke Folk. And as much as I value the rest and relaxation that can be found in a day spent fishing and the value of knowing an essential prepping skill, the cost of the gear and licence can really add up if I’m not actually catching any fish. So, to offset that, I try to find as many ways to cook, preserve, and use every bit of the fish. The following is a collection based on what is available in my neck of the woods. If you have access to other species of fish in your area, please share your recipes below in the comments section so we can all share the wealth of knowledge found in our prepping community.
Fresh and Fried
No doubt about it, my very favorite fish is pan fried trout cooked over an oak and manzanita campfire. Freshly caught and cleaned, dredged in cornmeal, and just the right size to fit in a cast iron skillet that has been liberally greased with some bacon grease. The recipe isn’t fancy, but the eating is good. To round out the meal, I add the recipes below:
Firepit Dutch Oven Cornbread
- 1 ½ cup yellow corn meal
- 2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 4 tablespoons baking powder
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups milk
- 4 tablespoons bacon grease
- Mix all your dry ingredients together in a container or easy seal bag before you leave the house so you don’t have to worry about measuring at your campsite. Mix the dry and wet ingredients together. I like to bring my dry ingredients in a gallon size Ziplock bag so I can dump my wet ingredients in, seal it up, and squish them all together. Cornbread is forgiving and turns out just fine this way.
- Lightly grease your dutch oven and and set it over the fire to warm. Once warm, pour the batter in, cover with the lid, and place the dutch oven back on a nice glowing bed of coals. Scoop enough coals on top of the lid to cover it. Wait about 30 minutes or so, replenishing the coals as needed to keep it hot, and then test for doneness by inserting a clean pocket knife. When it comes out clean, it’s done.
- While your cornbread is cooking, fry up a few pieces of bacon. It’s delicious crumbled over the trout and adds the extra fat calories needed for hiking and fishing. Remove the bacon and set aside to cool. Dredge your freshly caught and cleaned trout in some cornmeal, salt and pepper and fry it in the same pan you just took your bacon out of. The trout is done when it flakes easily with the point of your knife.
I like greens with my fish and will usually bring some home canned collards or spinach to heat up off on the side of the grill while everything else is cooking. Or, if I’m lucky, I might find some Miner’s Lettuce and make a salad.
Broth is an extremely healthy way to make use of the head and bones. Personally speaking, I love fish stock. It’s a great way to use up all the bits of fish that aren’t normally served up on a plate. The meat from the cheeks is especially tender and tasty. Just be sure to remove the gills from the fish heads before cooking because they make the stock bitter. A great video on how to remove the gills easily can be found here.
No matter what the recipes say, you can use any kind of fish to make stock. If I have enough salmon heads and trimmings, I might make a stock that is nothing but salmon. The stock has a beautiful pink hue and a rich, fatty taste and texture. However, if I don’t have enough salmon heads, I might throw in some trout or any other freshwater fish I have to finish filling my stock pot. Trout heads are pretty small, though, and picking them clean is a little like trying to pick the meat off of nothing but chicken backs. If you want some meat to go with your broth, make sure you have at least a couple of heads or trimmings from a larger fish like salmon. On the other hand, if you aren’t planning on using the pickings in your stock, you can still use them to make Goldfish Cakes:
Ruby’s Goldfish Cakes
- 15-ounces salmon (or other cooked, picked fish)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- ½ tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 large egg
- About 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
- About 2-3 cups of breadcrumbs Note: This is one of those recipes where I don’t measure and instead cook by feel. Add enough breadcrumbs to bind it all together but not so much that it tastes too much like breadcrumbs. You can also use saltines or Ritz- whatever you have on hand and sounds good at the time.
- 2-3 tablespoons cooking oil or bacon grease
- Mix all the ingredients except the cooking oil together in a bowl.
- Shape into burger-sized patties and fry in a hot skillet until cooked through and nicely browned on the outside.
- Allow to cool a few minutes and serve warm.
Wondering what to do with all that fish stock? Check out this list of my favorite recipes below:
Paella (substitute the 3 C of water in this recipe for fish stock. Trust me, it’s better than cooking with water)