Thursday, 1 March 2012

Stiuca pane

“Pike in breadcrumbs”

Romania has a plentiful supply of freshwater fish and pike is one of my favourites. When I went to the fishmonger (I am fortunate enough to have one about 50 metres from my house) I was intending to buy some salau (/sha-lauw/ - zander in English) which is the fish most commonly served in breadcrumbs here in Romania, but alas, they had sold out. They had some frozen fillets of zander but I much prefer to buy fresh fish if I have the opportunity and so I ended up buying a pike (stiuca - /sh-tee-oo-ka/), as they had some which looked pretty fresh. See my post on trout for some advice on what to look for when buying fresh fish.

The pike is an ugly brute, full of bone, scaly, with vicious teeth, but I love the delicate white flesh. It seemed to me to be a good replacement for the zander and, although I’ve not personally seen Romanians breading pike (I haven’t even heard of them bothering to fillet it, preferring to cook it whole) I thought it would be in the spirit of ‘making the best of the freshest ingredients available to you’ so I went ahead and cooked it ‘a la salau’. I’m glad to say that the pike made a more than adequate substitute.

When buying pike, you should take into account that they are heavy-boned, thick-skinned creatures with a large head and a lot of guts. If you intend to fillet it then you should probably count on only getting about one third of its initial weight in flesh – take this into account when you buy it. I generally find that a one-kilogram pike will yield enough flesh for two people.

The pike is a boney devil with a double-rack ribcage, which is probably why people don’t often fillet it, but once you’ve done it a couple of times it’s pretty straightforward. I recommend doing a search on YouTube for pike filleting techniques as there are a few experienced North American fisherman who have posted videos showing how it’s done. At the end of the filleting process you’ll end up with two side fillets, a top fillet (which I usually cut into four ‘fingers’) and two small medallions from behind the rear fins. The side fillets are the biggest and it’s those that you can see in the photograph here. The other parts make great ‘fish fingers’ so a one-kilogram pike could well serve two adults (a side fillet each) and a kid or two (give them 2 ‘fish fingers’ and a rear medallion each).

Servings: 2 (or more)
Time: 25 minutes (including 10 minutes for filliting)

1 pike of about 1kg in weight (whole) or 2 side fillets
2 eggs
200g of pesmet (fine breadcrumbs)
Plain flour
Salt and pepper
A good pinch of paprika (optional)
Cooking oil
Lemon for squeezing

1. Pour about a half a centimetre of cooking oil into a wide frying pan and put it on a medium heat.
2. Pour the breadcrumbs into a shallow dish and season with the salt, black pepper, and some paprika (if you like), the flour into another dish, and beat the eggs well in a third dish and arrange them close to the oil. Have a plate ready with some kitchen paper on it for draining the fried fish.
3. Dip the fillet into the flour and shake off any excess. Dunk it into the egg and allow the excess to drain off. Dredge it through the breadcrumbs making sure it’s well covered and gently agitate it a little so any excess falls back into the dish. Too many ‘spare’ breadcrumbs in the oil will burn, blacken subsequent fillets, and make it all taste a bit bitter.
4. Gently lay the fillet in the frying pan, which should now be hot but not spitting. Don’t put them in when it’s not hot enough as they’ll start absorbing too much oil and it’ll end up too soggy. Similarly, don’t have the heat too high or the outside will burn whilst the fish inside won’t be sufficiently cooked.
5. Fry for a couple of minutes on one side until golden brown, then carefully turn and finish off the other side.
6. Repeat with the other fillets. Depending on the size of the pan you might get them all in at once but don’t crowd them it – you should allow space for the oil to circulate and putting them all in at the same time will lower the temperature resulting in soggy fish. We want a golden crispy exterior and a cooked but tender interior. If you get it wrong, you’ll get a soggy coating and a tough overcooked fillet inside.
7. Remove the fillet to the kitchen paper to drain off any excess oil, then serve with a quarter of lemon.

Goes wonderfully with potatoes (chips, cartofi taranesti, or plain boiled), salads, or any other vegetable dish of choice, a homemade tartar sauce, or even just plain of tomato ketchup.

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