As with any wild food, the closer you are to the source, the better it’s going to taste. Lucia Watson, an angler and chef who owns Lucia’s Restaurant in Minneapolis, picks the lakeshore as the best place for cooking and eating walleyes. For Watson, that shore rims an island on Rainy Lake, near the Canadian border, where her family has maintained a fishing cabin for seven decades.
“Freshly caught walleye, dusted in cornmeal and fried up in some butter or bacon fat,” she says. “That is heaven.” That bit of heaven creeps onto her restaurant menu as well. At Lucia’s, which Watson has operated in one of Minneapolis’ oldest neighborhoods since 1985, she pairs cornmeal-crusted walleye fillets with a caper mayonnaise-a citified take on the traditional shore lunch of fried fish and tartar sauce. For “the Opener,” that second May weekend when Minnesota anglers storm the northern lakes, Watson roasts walleye fillets with asparagus spears, fiddlehead ferns, and chives, all of it tucked into foil pouches.
When the fiddlehead ferns are gone for the season, sugar-snap peas make an excellent substitute. Either way, the dish is “hobo pack” cookery at its most versatile. You can cook this dish at home, as the recipe instructs, with some fresh walleye fillets, store-bought vegetables, and an oven, but it’s even better cooked in the ash-covered coals of a campfire. And if you’re willing to forage, in the spring, for wild asparagus and fiddleheads (and even wild chives), it’s downright exquisite.
Look for fiddleheads-the coiled leafy tops of ostrich ferns, they get their name from their resemblance to a violin scroll-in northern hardwood forests in April and May. About that same time, you’ll see the tips of wild asparagus poking up in farm ditches and weedy roadsides. If cattails are easier to find, use them: Peel the shoots and substitute the 1- to 12-inch white inner stalks, called “Cossack asparagus,” for the asparagus. Wrap all the wild edibles-walleye and green stuff-securely in foil and cook in the low-burning coals of a campfire for about 10 minutes.
Recipe adapted from _ Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland _by Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson.
**FOIL-ROASTED WALLEYE WITH ASPARAGUS AND SUGAR-SNAP PEAS
4 tablespoons butter, softened
4 walleye fillets (about 4 to 6 ounces each)
8 asparagus spears
12 sugar-snap peas
1/4 cup snipped fresh chives
1 lemon, quartered
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
[BRACKET “1”] Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut four 1-foot-square sheets of aluminum foil. Liberally butter each sheet. On each sheet, place one walleye fillet, two asparagus spears cut into 1-inch pieces, and three sugar-snap peas.
[BRACKET “2”] Sprinkle the snipped fresh chives equally over each portion, squeeze the juice of a lemon quarter over each fillet, and then salt and pepper to taste.
[BRACKET “3”] Fold the aluminum foil to cover the fish and bake in the oven for about 12 minutes. Serve with buttered and parslied new potatoes, if desired.