Text and Photos by Bailey Smolarek and Ben Siebers
Winter can be tough, especially in the North and especially this year. The days are short and cold, and the sun is low and distant. But there is a unique beauty to Earth’s quiet hibernation that can be enjoyed in all of its glory on a frozen lake.
Unlike warm weather fishing when it’s easy to change location, identify natural weed edges and maneuver casts, ice fishing (aka hard water season) can feel much more like a shot in the dark. It requires the same sort of patience needed to endure Northern winters. Changing ice fishing spots can be arduous, especially without the aid of a motorized vehicle. Even moving a few feet requires drilling another hole. On days of extreme cold when hands are numb, changing bait or tying on a new lure can feel like a task, and worse yet your beer might even freeze. Tip-up fishing with friends helps tackle these issues, and it’s also one of the few group activities that can be done at a safe social distance.
The upper Midwest is fortunate to be covered in numerous freshwater lakes of varying sizes, many of them full of northern pike. But pike have a bad reputation; known by many as “snakes” and notoriously tough to clean, many anglers simply throw them back. And while it’s true that a pike’s y-bones are difficult to remove, pickling creates an easy solution by dissolving them without any master knife skills.
Our take on roll mops – a Northern European dish typically made with pickled herring that is rolled around a pickle – uses freshwater pike pickled in a vinegar brine and topped with acidity-cutting crème fraiche. It's a fun winter appetizer that will surely convince any angler to keep their limit of pike.
Roll Mops with Pickled Pike
Pickled Pike (makes 1 quart)
- 1 lb. northern pike fillets
- 4 cups warm water for salt cure
- 1 cup salt
- 2 cups white distilled vinegar
- 1 cup water for vinegar brine
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 tbsp pickling spice
- 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
- 1 small red onion, sliced
- 1 jalapeño, thinly sliced with seeds removed (add according to heat preference)
- ¼ lemon, thinly sliced
- Fillet and skin northern pike but leave y-bones. Cube into 1-inch chunks, and freeze for at least 48 hours (this will ensure all potential parasites are killed).
- Dissolve 1 cup salt into 4 cups warm water and allow to cool. Add cubed pike to the saltwater, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
- Strain and rinse cubed pike with water.
- Make brine by bringing 2 cups vinegar and 1 cup water to a boil, add sugar and mix until dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.
- In a 1-quart mason jar, layer fish cubes with pickling spices, garlic, onion, jalapeño and lemon.
- Pour cooled brine into the jar over the fish mixture.
- Leave in the refrigerator to brine for one week before eating. Jarred pickled pike will keep for about a month in the refrigerator.
Roll Mops (makes 12)
- 12 pickled northern pike cubes
- Crème fraiche (French sour cream)
- Sea salt (we like to use Hawaiian black sea salt for the color contrast)
- Olive oil
- Lemon zest
- Arrange fish cubes on a plate and top with a dollop of crème fraiche. Lightly sprinkle each piece with sea salt and lemon zest, then drizzle plate with olive oil. Serve with crackers.