This is the third of a three part series which utilizes indigenous foods and traditional cooking techniques as inspiration, placing indigenous traditions into a new context. We are taking direct inspiration from the work of Sean Sherman aka The Sioux Chef (see some of his ideas here), and we finish our series with fresh-caught walleye, served with a puree of acorn squash and wild greens. (Our first post on Elk can be found here. Our second post on duck can be found here).
We’ve gone deep on walleye in the past, including our research on the Walleye Wars, which provides context on how important this fish has been to indigenous cultures in the Great Lakes. It’s a great eating fish. Another great approach would be the Walleye Minot from Hank Shaw; a brilliant dish and I love his approach to using all local ingredients which emulate here.
Our approach to this dish is again inspired by The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller. We detailed his book in our post on duck, linked above. This time we are using some of the ideas from his Black Sea Bass approach (p.146). Taking wild foraged greens, an acorn squash roasted on a fire, and fresh caught walleye and mimicking the approach of one of the world’s best chefs is a ton of fun. The result is something completely unique, completely Great Lakes Cuisine.
We detailed our approach to the ash-roasted squash on our previous post regarding the duck recipe linked above. The unique twist here is our use of foraged wild greens. My go-to resource here is Alan Bergo, and his blog Forager Chef. He has also published a cookbook, The Book of Flora. We harvested dandelion greens and violets, from a hillside we knew had never been treated with pesticides.
We left the skin-on the walleye, ala Keller, and pan-roast it to get it crispy as the fish cooks. Our final touch is the bright green oil around the squash. That’s the oil from our sunflower, charred wild leek “pesto” which was featured in our first post of this series, again, linked above. It’s not essential, but it is visually stunning and adds a lovely base to the overall flavor. You could substitute a chive oil as detailed by Keller.
Walleye with Acorn Squash and Wild Greens
- 1 acorn squash
- 1 cup warm water
- 6 oz. mixed greens, foraged (substitute baby spinach), tough stems removed
- 1/2 Tbsp cedar salt (available here)
- 1 tsp. corn oil
- 1 walleye fillet, skin on, sliced into 6 even pieces
- 1 Tbsp corn oil
- Salt and pepper
- 2 Tbsp charred wild leek oil or chive oil (see note above)
See our previous post, the second in this series linked above, for three different options to cook the acorn squash. Once cooked, scoop out the seeds and discard. Scoop out the flesh into a food processor. Add just enough salted water to form a thick puree. Place in small sauce pan on low heat to keep warm.
Heat the corn oil in a large skillet over medium high heat until it shimmers. Add the cedar salt, then the leaves and cook for just 2 minutes. Leave to drain in colander.
Heat the oil for the filet in a large skillet over high heat. Fully dry the fish and then season with salt and pepper. When the oil is shimmering hot, add the fish, skin side down. Top with another heavy pan to ensure the skin makes full contact and the fish does not curl. Cook for 1 minute, then remove the top pan and cook for another 2 minutes, until nearly done. Then flip and cook for just 30 seconds. Then remove to a plate.
To serve: In the pan the fish just cooked in, over high heat, re-heat the wild greens. Place a scoop of acorn puree on each plate. using a tongs, swirl a ball of wild greens and top the acorn puree. Dress with wild leek oil. Place fish on top an serve.
When properly executed, the skin on the fish fillet becomes crispy which is essential for the texture contrast in this dish. Another tip – ensure the wild greens, particularly dandelion greens are chopped to bite size pieces before wilting. Dandelion is heartier than arugula or spinach, and the longer stems can be unappealing.
Other than the acorn squash, each of the main components of this dish came from within a few hundred feet of each other on a lake and forest in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Fish to field to forest. Fresh and foraged. Inspired by those who came before, those with us now, and generations to come.