Yet again, our European counterparts are all over it like a fat kid on a cupcake. There is much talk in the UK of eating what’s fresh, local and in season. Somehow, somewhere along the line we are still consistently missing the best of it. The Perch is very rarely covered in English culinary circles, the only time I have seen them on TV was in the form of that pathetic attempt at a wild food program; ‘The Wild gourmets’. Whilst watching the equally disappointing Guy Grieve & Thomasina Miers desperately flailing a rod around for the best part of a day, they pulled out one tiny perch and put it back again. Well done! Sadly their banter was shockingly bad. I’m not quite sure what that program was trying to achieve, as far as I know (judging from its ratings and reviews) it didn’t achieve a lot! As for their book as a comprehensive wild food guide...you would be better off with a copy of the London paper, or you could buy the book just in case you ever run out of loo paper.
Enough of talking crap TV. The Perch is the star of this show; quite why we, as a country don’t eat more I cant understand. This beautiful fish was a massive part of my early fishing days, I often used to head to a stream above Weir wood reservoir in Sussex armed with a hand line, float and pot of worms. It was an absolute joy to spend long summer days pulling out hundreds of them as well as the odd wild card of bream or trout.
Perch are the ‘hoodies’ of the water and like their land dwelling cousins, will attack anything on sight alone without provocation. This makes them fairly easy to catch be it fishing with maggots, worms, spinning or fly-fishing. They are greedy little buggers that hang out in shoals (gangs) and once you catch one, cast in the same spot and you should get more. Perch never really get bigger than 4-5lbs (the record is a whopping 5lbs 9oz) and the majority of fish tend to be around the 1lb mark- the perfect size for eating. Don’t discount the smaller ones as they too can be good eating, even sweeter than the big’uns. The perch suffered a massive decline in the 1960’s due to an ulcer disease that rapidly depleted the growing stocks. Nowadays they are on the increase and you will find very few waters that wont have perch in.
The fish itself is remarkably good eating; in taste and texture it is not that far off from Sea Bass, hence it is a firm friend of mine. Over the pond in France, perch are somewhat of a regular in fish markets and restaurants. I have never even seen one on an English Fish slab! I doubt Billingsgate would even have them. Around Lac Leman or Lake Geneva, a place teeming with vast amounts of perch they can be found everywhere the local dish of ‘filet du perche’ is amazing, delicate little fillets rolled in flour and pan-fried with butter and lemon. The best I ever had was in a little bistro in Annemasse just outside Geneva. You too can do this at home thanks to this recipe below from Nick Malgieri:
RECIPE: FILETS DE PERCHE DU LAC LEMAN
Lake perch are the Geneva fish specialty par excellence. Though they are available throughout Switzerland, especially in lakeshore communities where local fishermen net them fresh every day, they always seem to taste sweetest, freshest, and best in Geneva. The preparation is simple – the butter, lemon and parsley accent the sweetness of the perch without masking it.
You’ll need about 8 or 10 small fillets per serving, so I’m giving you a recipe for only two portions. If you can’t find perch, substitute trout – the taste won’t be the same, but it will be delicious nonetheless.
Makes 2 servings
16 to 20 small perch fillets
1 cup flour seasoned with a teaspoon each salt and pepper, for coating the fish
2 tablespoons unsalted butter for cooking the fish
3 tablespoons mild olive or vegetable oil
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup strained lemon juice
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
One 12-inch non-stick sauté pan or skillet
- Immediately before cooking the perch, flour the fillets on both sides, shaking off the excess flour.
- Heat the butter and oil in the sauté pan on medium heat. When the butter foam begins to subside, slip in the perch fillets, flesh side down. Cook for 2 minutes, gently shaking the pan to prevent sticking.
- Turn the fillets over using a spatula and cook another minute on each side. Turn one of the filets over and check to see that it is tender and not rubbery-raw by pressing with a fingertip. Cook a minute longer if necessary, then transfer the fillets, skin side down, to two heated plates.
- Discard the cooking fat and add the butter for the sauce to the pan. Allow the butter to foam up and heat, then add the lemon juice, swirling the pan and allowing the lemon juice to evaporate slightly for a few seconds. Swirl in the parsley and immediately pour over the fillets on the plates.
- Serve with plain boiled new potatoes or white rice.
There are so many perch in our waters these days and I enjoy my occasional perch bingeing, if you can muster the enthusiasm to grab a rod and head off to a likely location, you can get an excellent bag within a few hours to take home for tea. Once converted you will not only see them as an exquisite fish to look at, but you will also relish them for their taste. No doubt you will have more luck than the ‘Wild gourmets’. Wankers!