Bluegills = summer fun & food
My daughter Jesse and I have recently begun hitting one of the several small inland lakes in the county. It's a picturesque little lake (under 40 acres) with just a few homes situated around its tree-lined shore. I fished this lake years ago and did fairly well for crappie, bluegill, largemouth bass and northern pike. I know there are some good-sized bass and northern in this tea-colored lake; every once in a while someone will be in the local news for hauling in a big one from its weedy depths. Last week was the first day Jesse and I fished it together and we saw a bass clear the water that I judged to be in the 4 to 5 lb. range.
This morning we went out to see how we could do with the bluegills. We kept a few from our outing last week and Jesse loved their delicate flavor after we got home and fried them up. Today we hauled in a couple dozen; nothing big, but big enough to keep and eat.
Pan fried bluegills are one of those "wild" foods that make me think of summer. When I was a kid my grandparents would clean them simply, by cutting off the heads, gutting and scaling them and that was about it. I think I was the first person in the family to learn how to fillet fish and so I pretty well became the official "fish cleaner" every time we went fishing. I was okay with that, as I found the process to be rather meditative, and I took a good measure of pride in my ability to fillet fish with minimum waste and maximum efficiency.
But every now and then I get a hankering for that old bone-in method of cleaning small panfish. It makes you use your fingers when you eat, as you need to pull and pick the bones from the meat, which is a simple matter, and eating with one's fingers is a great way to eat fish outside in the summer.
The cooking method is also simple. An inch of hot oil in a skillet and the generic flour-egg-flour (or bread crumb) dip before frying is all it takes. Salt and pepper the flour and take an assembly-line approach with a shallow bowl for each dip ingredient leading up to the skillet of hot oil. Drain the fish on a paper towel-lined plate for several seconds as they come out of the oil. Add some paper towels to wipe your greasy fingers and a pitcher of iced tea or a cold beer, and you're good to go. Hint: the tails are the best...crunchy like chips.