The Cook Who Cried Wolf – Two Top Pike Recipes

Recipes for Northern pike.

[by Martin Mallet]

Brown trout sipping flies at the surface, permit cruising the flats for crabs, tuna crashing through a bait ball. Sport fish are predators, and none manage to look the part quite so convincingly as the Northern pike.

With its menacing silhouette, camouflaged body pattern, and crocodilian features, it looks every bit the cold-blooded killer. The Northern pike is a fearsome animal. It is an ambush predator par excellence, lying still in the shallow weed beds of lakes and slow-moving rivers that form its preferred habitat. Whereas most of the time, pike are content to stalk small fish, they will also opportunistically feed on almost anything they can fit in their mouths, including leaches, toads, muskrat, waterfowl, and even other pike. There’s even a video posted online of a pike aggressively attacking a small wooden stick thrown in the water. No wonder Izaak Walton dubbed pike “the Tyrant (as the Salmon is King) of the fresh waters.”

Sport fish are predators, and none manage to look the part quite so convincingly as the Northern pike.

Like any good tyrant, the northern pike is not just a killer, but a conqueror as well. It can be found across the entire circumpolar region, making pike the most successful of the Esox genus, which also comprises the behemoth muskellunge and various species of pickerel. Following the last ice age, pike colonized the North following the retreating ice sheet and were even found on the Bering land bridge, which once connected Alaska to Russia. It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to think that humans encountered them on their migration to North America over 10,000 years ago.

Although pike have been appreciated for both sport and table since at least that time, the relationship between pike and humans has somewhat soured of late. In the United States, overzealous anglers have illegally introduced pike outside its native range, with harmful impacts on fish populations. Pike now has the dreaded label of “pest” in many areas, and at least one Canadian province has even put out a bounty on pike heads; each pike head brought in gets you a lottery ticket for a prize draw. They also seem to have fallen out of favor as table fare as well, though that one is harder to explain, as pike are simply delicious.

Once you get past the copious amounts of slime and the Y-bones, you would be hard-pressed to find something objectionable about pike. The slime comes off with careful scraping and rinsing, and preparing a boneless pike fillet isn’t all that difficult. Plenty of instructional videos and diagrams can be found online. In short, simply fillet the fish as you would any other; then locate the strip of Y-bones in the upper third of the fillet and remove it by making one cut on either side of the bones. Depending on the depth of the cut, you’ll either end up with a single boneless whole fillet, with a gap in the middle where you removed the Y-strip, or two separate boneless strips.

Pike quenelles

Quenelles are a very fine dumpling made with either meat or fish. Accompanied with a shellfish sauce, it’s perhaps the most classically French pike dish, and is a great way to make use of smaller fish or trimmings. Since all the ingredients go into the food processor, this is the perfect recipe to practice deboning.

(Serves 6 to 8)


  • ½ cup milk ¼ cup
  • (½ stick) butter
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 ounces flour
  • 3- to 4-pound pike, skinned and deboned
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 pound crayfish (substitute lobster or crab)
  • 1 small onion, thickly sliced
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 ounce cognac
  • ½ cup white wine
  • ½ cup water, or fish stock
  • salt and pepper

Making the quenelles:

  • Fill a medium pot with heavily salted water and bring to a simmer.
  • In another pot, combine the milk, butter, salt, and pepper over medium heat and bring to a boil.
  • Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to get a smooth paste.
  • Continue to cook, stirring continuously, for 1 or 2 minutes to cook off excess moisture.
  • Remove from the heat and set aside.
  • In a food processor, combine the pike, eggs, and cream; then purée until the mixture is smooth and light, stopping periodically to scrape down the mixture into the bowl.
  • Add the flour paste and continue to process to get a very homogeneous mixture.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • To shape the quenelles, you can either use two large spoons to form a series of roughly 3-ounce footballs or, more simply, roll the quenelle dough on a generously floured bowl and cut into cylindrical pieces.
  • Poach the quenelles in barely simmering water for 10 to 12 minutes; then remove and place in an ice-water bath to cool. Set aside.
  • The quenelles can be kept overnight in the refrigerator.

To make the sauce:

  • Heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the crayfish.
  • Cook until the exterior changes color, about 3 minutes; then add the onion and cook another 5 to 6 minutes, until it has softened.
  • Add the tomato paste and flour, and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Add the cognac, and carefully light it to flambé.
  • When the flames subside, deglaze with the wine and simmer for 5 minutes to let the alcohol evaporate.
  • Add the water, and simmer for 25 minutes.
  • Strain the sauce, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To finish:

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Place the quenelles in an ovenproof dish and pour the sauce over them.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, or until the quenelles have puffed and are golden brown on top.
  • Serve immediately.