Isolation's Reward -- Whipping Up Forest Fisher’s Famous Walleye Cheeks and Clams Chowder
Updated: Mar 24
Note: This was written during self-imposed isolation during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) panic.
Star Date 2020323. We’ve been in self- imposed isolation now for nearly 10 days. The dog betrays his confusion, eying me quizzically, wondering why I never get out of my green plaid pajama bottoms or if I ever change my t-shirt or shave a little. I think he growled something about me looking like Howard Hughes in the end days. Excursions into society have been avoided, save a couple quick, fear-laden-but-essential voyages to the state liquor store for emergency medicinal supplies and a fighter pilot’s sweep through the grocery store to scan shelves devoid of paper products, milk, breads and meats. Life is slowing to a monotonous crawl, except for the hilarity generated by watching government in action (or is it inaction?) and watching our 401Ks retreat into an abyss from which we fear they may never climb out of – so much for a leisurely ex-pat lifestyle in the South of France. Sigh.
Speaking of groceries, meat is no issue. We hoard meat. Why? Because we’re hunters and anglers and we can. We have skills many mortals do not possess when it comes to sourcing protein. We can also garden; well, we could except I hate all the weeding and tending.
The great Coronavirus (nee Wuhan) panic of 2020 is offering a rare, unconstrained by time opportunity to explore the well-stocked larder that is our freezer, trying to assess where we might be lacking in our inventory control practices.
With freezing wild game products, especially fish or birds, a FIFO (first-in, first-out) rotational method is preferred. Fish don't “keep” as well as vacuum-sealed portions of white-tailed deer, moose, rabbits and squirrels. I reached blindly into a dark corner of the second shelf, past the piles of venison sausage, rump steaks and backstraps and grasped a ziplock freezer bag full of fish frozen in water. The label read, “walleye cheeks and scraps.” Clearly, this was the last of several packs brought home from a trip to Chautauqua County in New York where Lake Erie yielded a bounty of sweet, succulent walleye.
Fish connoisseurs know the inner cheek of the walleye contains a small, delectable medallion of meat worth harvesting. And, as fish are filleted, there are usually tiny pieces of boneless scrap meat that can also be added to soups and stews.
“Aha,” I exclaimed, recalling this pack was originally filled in order to re-create a delicious dish we enjoyed on that trip, namely “Forrest Fisher’s Famous Walleye Cheek and Clam Chowder. We implored Mr. Fisher to share his recipe and he graciously complied. Then, in typical Outdoors Rambler fashion, we changed it a bit to make it a “one-pot” meal with a little Cajun seasoning. It is compulsive; sort of like a cover band that always tweaks songs to “make them their own.”
It turned out – oh, how do the French say? – “Magnifico!”
Except, I think we want to change the name to Coronavirus Seafood Stew…or maybe not. There is “pushback” in that regard.
That’s the lengthy preamble. Here’s the short recipe. This is a filling dish. And before you say, “I don’t have walleye,” let me add you can make this with any other firm, flaky white fish, including striped bass (good cheek meat), crappie, yellow perch, haddock and many more. Obviously, getting cheek meat from small fish might not be worth the effort – just use diced fillets.
1 ½ cups diced (about ½-inch cubes) white potatoes (we used a mix of yellow and russet because that’s what we had on hand and hoarders had taken all potatoes)
½ cup chopped onion (we prefer sweet onions for this)
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tbsp butter
½ tsp Cajun spice mix
¼ tsp lemon pepper
1 cup diced (½-inch pieces) walleye cheeks or fillets
8 oz jarred Alfredo sauce (I used about half of a 16-ounce jar of Ragu alfredo sauce)
1 18.5-ounce can of clam chowder (we used Progresso Rich and Hearty because that’s what the grocery store had)
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the potatoes, onion, garlic, butter and spices in a pot and add just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes until the potatoes are soft. Don’t overdo it. You want it like a chunky potato salad versus a bowl of mashed potatoes. Add the fish and, if needed, a little more water. Simmer another few minutes until the fish is opaque. Add the sauce and soup and return to a simmer. Season to taste and serve promptly with oyster crackers. And, an ice cold Corona beer - if you like...