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Fishing is a fun way to get out on the water. Not only can you spend some time in nature, but you can potentially catch dinner while you’re at it, saving yourself a trip to the grocery store.
One of the most common fish in eastern North America is the white perch. Fishermen love catching this fish from the Eastern Seaboard and even in the Great Lakes.
However, white perch is not as storied a fish as salmon or bass. Many fishermen and their families are confused about what to do with this common yet baffling fish.
If you’ve been faced with a bounty of white perch, here is what you need to know about eating it and preparing it.
What Is White Perch?
White perch is a small, silvery fish that reaches up to 10 inches in length and one pound in weight. It belongs to the bass family instead of the perch family (the name is somewhat confusing) and is a close relative to the striped bass.
You can usually identify white perch by its silvery-white color and darker stripe along its dorsal fin and back.
White perch is a widespread fish that can live in brackish waters, fresh water, and even along the coast. You can find them anywhere from lakes and ponds in the Midwestern United States to the coastal areas of Nova Scotia.
In some areas, white perch is considered an invasive species because they reproduce quickly and eat the same things that native species such as walleye and white bass do. That is why they are some of the most common targets of sport fishing because many local governments actively encourage fishing of white perch to cull the population.
Can You Eat White Perch?
White perch is very common in sport fishing circles, but less so in culinary spheres. While many cooking sites and books sing the praises of bass, trout, and salmon, white perch is often ignored.
However, white perch is safe to eat and many people consider it to be quite delicious. It’s considered a delicacy around the Chesapeake Bay area, where there are large populations of white perch thanks to the brackish water.
White perch is a great year-round option for fish because you can catch it during any season and it freezes easily. That means that you can have delicious fish, whenever you are craving it.
White perch is a flaky white fish that has a similar taste to walleye, pike, and even freshwater bass. White perch is a good choice for picky eaters because the fishy taste is quite mild, while other wild-caught species can be overwhelming.
When cooked, white perch has a delicious, flaky texture that falls apart on your fork.
However, the reason why white perch is not as common a delicacy as bass is that it is comparatively difficult to prepare. White perch is much smaller than similar fish species, so you need to catch more fish to get the same amount of meat that you would from one bass.
White perch is also a bit of a pain to clean. You need to remove all the little bones to get the clean fillets, which adds up to a lot of effort if you have a lot of fish to clean.
Although white perch requires some extra effort to clean, the delicious flavors are worth it. The fish is perfectly safe to eat.
How to Prepare White Perch
If you have a lot of white perch lying around, here are a few ideas for your next dinner.
Many fishermen swear that white perch tastes the best when it is fried. In the Potomac River area, fried perch is such a delicacy that one of the most famous events for fishermen in the region is the annual white perch fish fry at Fletcher’s Boathouse.
If you are not in the Chesapeake Bay area or can’t score an invite to this fishermen’s party, you can fry your own perch.
First, you need to fillet the perch. Scale the fish, then use a fillet knife to separate two fillets from the backbone. Be sure that you remove all of the bones from your fish to avoid an unpleasant surprise later when you eat it.
Then, some cooks like to marinate their perch before breading and frying it. You can make a quick marinade out of lemon juice, salt, pepper, and parsley and leave the fillets in for 10 minutes.
After your fish is prepared and marinated, you can bread the fish. Prepare three plates or trays with flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs. Coat the fish in flour first, then egg, and finally the crumbs.
Finally, your fish is ready to fry! Deep fry it in oil until the fillets are golden brown.
You can serve your white perch fish fry with just tartar sauce and lemon, or go all out with the side dishes such as coleslaw, cornbread, and even oysters.
If the weather is nice and you want to fire up the grill, then white perch is an excellent departure from your typical barbecue fare of burgers and hot dogs.
To grill the perch, separate the fillets from the bones. You can also make a marinade for extra flavor and let the perch soak for several hours.
Then, grill the fish for about 12 minutes on each side, until it looks done. This charred dish is a favorite in the American South, where it is sometimes served on a platter with catfish.
White perch is a very versatile fish, so you can prepare it in many ways, although these two are the most popular. You can poach it, bake it in the oven, or even grind up the flesh to make fish cakes.
Eating White Perch
White perch is good to eat and abundant, so you can make this a frequent rotation to your dinner repertoire.
It is widespread in the eastern United States and fishermen are encouraged to catch it due to its invasive species status, so you will probably never lack white perch. Once you figure out how to clean it, remove the many bones, and develop the patience to fillet this tiny fish, you will be rewarded with a mild, flaky white fish.
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