Along the Grapevine


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Pickerel in Grape Leaves with Mushroom Za’atar Sauce

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Pickerel, or walleye as it is often called here, is a fresh water fish common in North American lakes. It is the fish I might have caught had it been warm enough to go ice fishing, but given the small number of fishing huts in the area, I am not the only timid one. I did manage to find a good source of fresh, local fish which I’m sure is as good as any I would have caught. Besides, it came all cleaned and filleted. So this is my contribution to The Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday – seasonal, easy and wild.

This fish is a close relative of the pikeperch, so that could be substituted in this recipe, as well as any white freshwater fish. The other main ingredients are grape leaves and za’atar, and those are available in most areas. If you don’t have a stock of wild grape leaves in your freezer from last year, regular leaves are sold in jars in some supermarkets. Just be sure to rinse the brine off before using. If you don’t have za’atar, or the ingredients to make it, use any recipe for za’atar and replace the sumac with grated lemon zest.

Pickerel in Grape Leaves

1 1/2 lbs fish fillets

3 Tbsp finely chopped sweet onion

2 Tbsp za’atar

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tsp salt

2 Tbsp olive oil

30 grape leaves, approximately

Remove the skin from the fillets if there is any. I used the skin to make stock which I used later in the sauce. Just cover with some water and allow to simmer until you are ready for it.

Cut the fillets into pieces – some will already be small from the skinning process, but others can be about 2 inches long. Place them in a bowl and mix in the remaining ingredients, except for the leaves.

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Lay two or three leaves on a flat service overlapping slightly. If the leaves are very small, you might need four – two if they are very large. Place a large spoonful (1/4 cup) of the fish mixture at the base of your leaf arrangement. Fold upwards once, tuck in the sides and continue to roll up. If grilling, it might be wise to secure them with toothpicks which have been soaked in water.

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If using an oven, place them in a casserole dish, brush with a little olive oil and garnish with lemon slices. Bake in a 425 degree F oven for about 1/2 hour.

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These can be eaten hot or cold. I’m thinking of making some next time I pack a picnic. Meanwhile, I served these warm with saffron rice and a mushroom sauce. No need for a sauce really, or you can make whatever kind you like. This is how the sauce was made.

Mushroom Za’atar Sauce

Fry about a cup of sliced mushrooms in butter until lightly brown. Make a roux with 1 Tbsp butter, 1 Tbsp flour (I used chestnut flour to  make it gluten-free), and 1/2 cup of fish stock. When the sauce has thickened, add the cooked mushrooms, 1 tsp of za’atar and salt and pepper to taste. Heat through and it is ready. This is a small quantity for two people, so just multiply it to get the amount you need.

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The grape leaves keep the fish from drying out or getting scorched if being grilled. They also add flavour to the delicate fish, and provide good packaging for any leftovers to be eaten cold the next day. There doesn’t seem to be any difference in flavour that I can detect between wild and other grape leaves, so just use whichever is convenient.