Esox lucius. Pike are stuff of nightmares, ugly in a way that scares us on a subconscious level. They are skillful predators, lurking and then attacking their prey at an astonishing speed.
In lakes and rivers they feed on larvae, frogs and river fish, even eating their own species on occasion. When in the brackish waters of the Baltic – for pike do not restrict themselves wholly to fresh water – they even hunt shoals of herrings.
Appearance and taste
Pike have a distinctive long snout, and a well-camouflaged, green-gold spotted skin. Their teeth are horrifying, populating a huge set of jaws allegedly big enough to accommodate mini poodles and whole ducks if the pike is fully grown to an impressive 1 ½ meters. The males are smaller than the females, and pike grow not only on length, but also get bigger around the waist with age. I have eaten huge pike, and they make very good eating, but their bones keep them on the cheap side in Scandinavia; even a huge one is inexpensive.
The pike’s flesh is striking for its unusually firm texture. Pike caught in brackish water are far better to eat than freshwater pike. The taste is meaty like shark, and delicious.
Pike, contrary to popular belief, do not contain more bones than other fish, nor are they scattered around in the flesh at random. They do, however, have neat rows of nasty Y-shaped bones running at a slant along the front of half of the fish’s back. These are easy to remove when the fish is raw and even easier if the pike has been baked whole. You can of course ask the fishmonger to take them out for you.
Pike suffers from the general opinion that it is good only for making quenelles. In fact, it’s closer to the truth to say that it is extraordinarily good for fishcakes and quenelles – the pike’s gelatinous and firm flesh, exceptional in the fish kingdom, makes it perfect for this purpose.
A perfect prepared pike is much more juicy and succulent than tuna or shark, which share the same consistency when cooked. It will be inedible if cooked through, but pan-fried it is easy to cook to perfect doneness. However, baking the whole fish in the oven is perhaps the ultimate way to prepare pike. Pike works well as no descaling is required, and the fish’s thick overcoat acts as a self-basting protective layer and also makes it hard for you to overcook it.
Mustard sauces, capers and horseradish are very good with pike.
Whether you are making rissoles or quenelles, the small bones present no problems as they can be minced with the flesh. Eat the rissoles with a heap of steamed, buttered spring vegetables and lemon.
1kg finely minced pike
1 onion, finely chopped
100g smoked bacon, finely chopped
100g salted butter, melted, plus extra for frying
1 tablespoon plain flour
200ml whipping cream
2 bunches of herbs, preferably a mixture of parsley, dill, chervil, chives, rhyme and tarragon, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Mix everything (apart from the butter for frying) in a mixer or a large bowl. Stir until the creamed fish is forming strands – this is the protein in the fish developing into membranes, which will eventually make the rissoles rise as they cook.
Heat the extra butter in a frying pan until browned, then gently fry the rissoles. Turn them over when they are golden on one side. They are finished when they feel like a foam mattress when you press them gently with your finger.
Alternatively, poach the rissoles in trembling, salted water, and when they rise to the top they are done. Eat as dumplings in a fish soup, or brown them in the oven in a white sauce with Parmesan cheese sprinkled over.
Scandinavian Pike, written by Tor Kjolberg