At 8:30 in the morning, after several sputters, our rental boat’s motor was completely dead.
On Lake Minnetonka, my dad, Jim, and I sat floating halfway between Casco and Locke Point.
My dad, a mechanic, fumbled with the motor. I kept quiet as the complexity and frequency of his expletives grew with every minute spent stagnant.
The water’s surface warmed and glistened with the rising sun. Wake from other fishermen with functioning motors lapped against our hull. I could feel our prime fishing time slipping away, a catastrophe complicated by the fact that this was supposed to be a Father’s Day present to my dad visiting from Illinois.
“It appears to be electrical,” my dad said, replacing the cover on the powerhead.
I called Howard’s Point Marina — where we had rented the boat—and after a few exchanges, manager Bill Olson promised to find us on the water and replace the motor.
“Well,” my dad said, “might as well start fishing.”
So that’s what we agreed to do — stand tall, wet a line and let the wind blow us where it would. Neither of us had ever fished Minnetonka, so instead of surveying shorelines and reading structure like we had hoped to do, we left our morning up to chance.
We floated toward Casco Point, near Carman Bay, and once we saw a weedline below the water, we dropped anchor and worked our respective sides.
Through the weeds, I dragged a bottom-bouncing rig with a slinky weight and 1-foot floating leader, using a leech as bait. I retrieved it slowly and on my second cast, I retrieved it even more slowly. After reeling several feet, I had a hit and ended up bringing an 11-inch crappie to hand.
“Not at all bad for the west metro area,” I told my dad. “I already consider this day salvaged.”
We continued to catch various panfish while we waited for Olson to arrive with our replacement motor. When he did, after helping us install it, he pointed out a couple other prime fishing spots for us to check out.
After Olson motored off, we considered moving, then another fish hit, then another.
“Let’s stick here for today,” I suggested.
By early afternoon, we had a basket full of panfish.
When it came time to decide how to cook these fish, I figured dumb Irish luck might as well be accompanied by a dumb Irish beer.
Guinness, like many other types of alcohol, is a great way to deglaze skillets. During deglazing, Guinness gathers any residual cooked bits and fats, thus retaining all flavors.
Using one cast-iron skillet for all steps causes flavor to build, one dramatic act after another, so the final product of golden, crispy panfish will be steeped in flavor.
We enjoyed our day’s catch.
Have a few sunnies and/or crappies in the freezer?
Give this recipe a try.
One-Skillet Panfish Fry Dinner With Guinness Tartar Sauce
Plan ahead; fish needs to soak in almond milk for two to three hours. Click here for video highlights of how to prepare the recipe.
• 2 lb. filleted panfish
• 32 oz. unsweetened almond milk
• 1 lb. thick-cut bacon, diced
• 1 lb. Brussels sprouts, cut in half
• 2 tbsp. butter
• 2 tsp. kosher salt
• 2 tsp. pepper
• 1 c. sliced almonds
• 1 lb. russet potatoes, diced (1-inch cubes)
• ½ tbsp. kosher salt
• ½ tbsp. black pepper
• ½ tbsp. granulated garlic
• ½ tbsp. sugar
• ½ tbsp. chili powder
• 2 c. peanut oil, for frying
• ½ medium yellow onion, diced
Guinness Tartar Sauce:
• ½ medium shallot, finely diced
• ½ tbsp. freshly minced garlic
• ¼ c. Guinness stout
• 1 c. mayonnaise
• 1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
• ⅔ tsp. Dijon mustard
• Juice from ¼ lemon
• 2 tbsp. minced dill pickle
• ½ tbsp. pickle juice
• ½ tsp. kosher salt
• ½ tsp. black pepper
• 1½ c. flour
• ½ tbsp. kosher salt
• ½ tbsp. black pepper
• 1 tbsp. granulated garlic
• 1 tbsp. onion powder
• 1 tbsp. chili powder
• 1 tbsp. dry thyme
Soak fish in almond milk for 2 to 3 hours.
To make Brussels sprouts: Heat a large cast iron skillet on medium heat until hot, about 5 minutes. Add bacon to skillet, stirring often. Once bacon is crisp, drain through sieve and reserve grease. Add about 2 tablespoons of bacon grease back to skillet and add Brussels sprouts. Increase heat to medium-high in order to sear sprouts. Add 2 tablespoons butter to pan and 2 teaspoons each of salt and black pepper to sprouts and toss often to achieve even sear. Add sliced almonds. Remove once sprouts are soft but not mush. Set aside.
To make tartar sauce: In the same skillet, add shallots and fresh garlic. Cook until brown and soft, and deglaze by adding Guinness and scraping up any bits and pieces at the bottom of the skillet. Stir often until Guinness is absorbed and skillet is mostly deglazed. Place shallots and fresh garlic in a mixing bowl and add mayo, vinegar, mustard, lemon juice, pickle and pickle juice, ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Mix thoroughly and refrigerate until ready to serve.
To prepare potatoes: Add potatoes to a large pot and cover with water. Bring to boil, then completely drain water immediately. In separate bowl, combine ½ tablespoon salt, ½ tablespoon black pepper, granulated garlic, sugar and ½ tablespoon chili powder. Mix in with potatoes. In same cast-iron skillet, add remaining bacon grease, along with 2 cups peanut oil. Heat oil to 350 degrees before adding potatoes. Fry potatoes until golden brown, adding diced onion at end to brown. Remove potatoes/onions when golden; drain on paper towel.
To fry fish: In a bowl, combine flour, ½ tablespoon salt, ½ tablespoon pepper, granulated garlic, onion powder, 1 tablespoon chili powder and thyme. Dredge fillets through flour mixture. Heat oil in skillet to 350 degrees over medium heat. Fry fish on both sides until golden brown, then drain on paper towel.
If at home, reheat Brussels sprouts and potatoes for 10 minutes in 300-degree oven. Serve with fish, with tartar sauce on the side.