A seasonal look at seafood dishes for the winter months
Ice cream, ripe tomatoes from the garden, green salads, fresh fish, it smells like summer, doesn’t it? Wait; reconsider the latter. January is a great time to explore delicious cold water swimmers. We’ve always had a passion for ice fishing here in Minnesota, and so has the trendy Nordic Revival culinary movement – a cuisine rich in pickled, smoked, and canned fish. We bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised: from sexy raw oysters to warming fish stews and vibrant sushi preparations, the flavors are invigorating, nourishing and exciting. The array of seasonal fish is also dazzling: rainbow trout, northern pike, walleye, herring, salmon and more. We haven’t encountered the dreaded Lutefisk, but rest assured, he’s hiding somewhere. In the meantime, check out these delicious winter fish finds.
BLACKENED FISH STREET TACOS
This dish is decidedly summery, making it a great choice on the darkest, coldest winter nights when the sunny seaside is just a melancholic memory. Street tacos start with fresh flour tortillas and are loaded with charred cod, avocado, queso fresco, lettuce, onion, bell pepper, pico de gallo, salsa verde and guacamole. They are served with tasty black beans and a nice rice pilaf. Bar Louie’s lively atmosphere adds to the party, and it also helps melt the ice, if only for one evening. $10.
MINNESOTA SMOKED FISH PLANT
Birch’s on the Lake Brewhouse and Supperclub
We languished greedily as Birch’s restaurant closed to expand and renovate; our patience was powerfully rewarded with a beautiful new space and a mouth-watering fresh menu. The Minnesota Smoked Fish Platter is a great example of New Scandinavian cuisine. It is served on a board with a rustic charm and offers three different preparations, which change according to the seasons and the whims of the chef. A recent tip included homemade pickled herring, flavored with onions, caraway seeds, coriander seeds and star anise; a creamy smoked trout mousse; and silky, buttery salmon. Portions are generous – eight to nine ounces of each fish – and served simply with pickled red onions, corn relish and lavash crackers. $16.
Jimmy’s food and cocktails
Everything that comes out of Jimmy’s kitchen is expertly cooked and expertly seasoned. The top of the menu announces what’s in season and includes a featured fish. The fish is as fresh as possible and Jimmy’s treats it with the care and creativity it demands. A perennial favorite is the halibut, prepared all over the place: wrapped in crispy prosciutto, crusted in roasted garlic breadcrumbs and, our favorite, a soy-wasabi-champagne reduction with a sweet cream sauce. of wasabi, grilled green onions and wasabi mashed potatoes. $31-$32.
MACARONIS AND CHEESE WITH LOBSTER
BLVD Kitchen and Bar
Comfort and decadence are both vital pick-me-ups in winter meals; mac and cheese is a classic comfort food. Add lobster, and it’s as decadent as it gets. This dish is a good example of the Scandinavian winter coping strategy called hygge. Hygge roughly means “togetherness” and it’s all about friends, family, food and drink. BLVD’s mac is a far cry from the neon orange stuff we loved when we were kids – theirs is made with curly cavatappi pasta, chunks of fresh lobster meat, tomato, green onion and a delicious sour cream. three cheeses. It’s topped with cornbread crumbs and goes under the broiler for a bit of crunch. They are huge portions, meant to be shared, which is as hygge as it gets. $24.
Wisconsin has a few trout farms; Rushing Waters Fisheries in Palmyra is the largest. Rainbow trout are farmed without chemicals, using state-of-the-art sustainable aquaculture practices. The water is extra cold, producing firm, clean-tasting flesh. Rushing Waters also makes excellent smoked fish in northern hardwood ovens. Pick up a Smoked Fish Sample Pack including Smoked Rainbow Trout and Cajun, Peppered, Traditional and Lemon Dill Smoked Salmon online (vacuum packed and shipped in a cooler) , or head to our local Whole Foods to see what’s on hand in the seafood aisle. Kettle Moraine where you can fish yourself, no fees or permits required. Smoked Fish Sampler Set, $55. Available at Whole Foods.
Cioppino is an American-Italian dish born in the 1880s in San Francisco, when Italian fishermen settled in the North Beach district. The rich, aromatic soup is more like a stew; a bowl at Cov overflows with pieces of North Atlantic lobster, scallops, shrimp, whitefish and mussels. Shells are included in the mix, making it a mini fishing expedition directly at the table. The divine broth is seasoned with roasted fennel and velvety tomato fumet (reduction). It’s especially satisfying with good toast for dipping and dipping. $33.
(Cov’s cioppino features a mix of different seafood in a rustic stew.)
Yumi’s sushi bar
Sushi cravings strike all year round, even in winter. Yumi’s Sushi Bar receives daily shipments of fresh seafood and offers a tantalizing list of creative sushi rolls, each large enough for a dinner party on its own. A winter roll is a popular example, consisting of a kaleidoscope of salmon, tuna, yellowtail, avocado, spicy mayonnaise and capelin roe, wrapped in crunchy tempura flakes, like the tastiest snowflakes in all the time. Eight pieces, $18.95.
NORTHERN PIKE PICCATA
Lord Fletcher’s Old Lake Lodge
Northern pike, the state fish of North Dakota, are large, carnivorous lake fish that gnaw on our mild-mannered walleye for a simple snack. The long-snouted monster is exciting to fish: aggressive and acrobatic, with a reward of sweet-tasting white flesh. Lord Fletcher’s excels in cooking fish; piccata is a clever preparation for this big fish, jazzy with lemon, white wine and salted capers topped with butter. It is served with nicely colored fingerling potatoes. $20.
This homage to our Minnesota culture was inspired by a regular at Sushi Fix, a hopping joint at Wayzata. The roll is filled with cooked fish, not raw shrimp and snow crab, crunched with tempura and cemented with cream cheese, then topped with avocado, tempura flakes and sweet unagi sauce. “Even Scandinavians love it!” said the jolly owner, Billy Tserenbat. Sit down at the sushi bar for an explosion of merriment – an evening here has the power to ease the winter doldrums. $18.
LOTTSA LOX PLATE
Enjoy a cozy meal at Crossroads Deli with a classic bagel and smoked salmon plate. Dubbed the “smoked salmon lover’s dream”, this is a lovely array of thinly sliced pink salmon, sliced onions, tomatoes, capers and cream cheese. You can make a sandwich with all the toppings on a bagel, or mix and match the different ingredients. We especially like the smoked salmon, onion and capers together. $17.99.
One of the main attractions of eating expertly prepared fish is learning about its provenance, history and sense of place. At Bacio, journey into the wild highland landscape with a tasty plate of Scottish salmon. As with all of Bacio’s dishes, it is expertly and tastefully prepared, with Thai barbecue sauce, sesame spinach, lime and crunchy peanuts. As usual with Bacio’s local and sustainable philosophy, dish details may vary from season to season. $29.