Dem Bones

Pike are notorious for being boney.

As a child, I developed an intense fear of choking on fish bones. Not from any horrendous experience, but probably from my little-girl brain taking an off-hand comment from my mum to be careful way too seriously.

Don’t get me wrong, choking isn’t any fun, but it doesn’t mean all fish should be avoided. I was the only one in the family interested in fi shing (my brother and dad wouldn’t even eat the results) and I tended to catch pike most often.

I remember my first fishing trip south of 60, when the other kids all laughed at my massive lures, and I laughed at their tiny trophy trout.

Even up north, though, I still hear pike spoken of with a hint of condescension. The fish you catch when you can’t catch any other. The voracious eaters who will chase anything.

Well, for every fisher that thumbs his or her nose at the much-maligned jackfish I suppose that means more fish for the rest of us.

Part of the secret of not hating pike is learning how to fillet it so the flesh doesn’t have all of those tiny bones that stick in your craw like a burr in your dog’s coat.

I only learned the technique a couple of years ago, and it has moved pike right up the pecking order to one of my favourite fish, not only to catch, but to eat. I’ll admit I don’t always love the fiddly filleting, but it’s a package deal.

The trick is understanding a little fish skeletal anatomy. There is the spine, and from that radiates a series of parallel ribs, which differ in number and angle of attachment from species to species.

A small fish like grayling I would never bother to fi llet, but simply cook whole and then that spine lifts out of the flesh with all the ribs attached – voilà, no bones.

Try that with a pike (as I have many times) and you get sorely disappointed. This is because pike have a row of ‘floating ribs’ that aren’t actually attached to the spine – the infamous Y-bones.

Fillet outside of these and you end up with lovely firm, white flesh that you don’t have to eat in tiny tiny bites – delicious dredged in fl our and spices and fried, dropped in boiling water for ‘poor man’s lobster’, or innumerable other concoctions.

While you end up leaving more flesh on the skeleton, I don’t lose any sleep over this because the whole thing, head and all, goes straight into the stockpot so I don’t feel it is wasted.

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