Do you enjoy trying new and exciting dishes? If so, it’s time to introduce you to burbot, also known as eelpout, ling, lawyer fish, or mariah. These freshwater cod are often overlooked due to their intimidating appearance, causing anglers to toss them back into the water. But I’m here to change that perception and show you just how delicious burbot can be.
Burbot can be found in deep, cold freshwater environments, primarily in lakes within the northern regions of the world. Yes, you read that right – these fish are truly global! Known as Lota lota in Latin, burbot can be found in Europe, Asia, and North America.
In North America, they are commonly found north of the 40 degrees latitude, which stretches from the Oregon border with California to southern New York. They inhabit the Great Lakes, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Montana, the Dakotas, and of course, Canada.
Burbot, similar to their codfish cousins, dwell at the bottom of the water, searching for their next meal. Due to the scarcity of food in their environment, burbot are known to be aggressive biters, so you’ll definitely know when you’ve hooked one!
Their camouflage coloring varies depending on their habitat and differs between individuals. However, it generally consists of speckles of green, yellow, and brown. Burbot closely resemble the Atlantic cusk, another type of codfish that I’ve had the pleasure of catching numerous times.
Preparing burbot is easier than you might think. Simply fillet the fish as you would with any other type of fish and remove the skin. Some anglers compare the process to cleaning catfish, where you score the skin around the head and use pliers to remove it. However, burbot skin is scaleless and smooth, resembling an eel’s skin but without the sliminess.
Their ribcages are quite rounded, so when dealing with larger fish, you can either slice around them or cut right through them. As for smaller fish, you can use kitchen shears to snip the ribs while filleting, then remove them by sliding the knife under the ribs.
The Hidden Treasures of Burbot
When it comes to burbot, waste not, want not. Save the liver, roe, bones, and the head – each of these parts holds their own exquisite treats.
Burbot liver is not only creamy and fatty, but it is also rich in Vitamin D. Look for clean-looking livers without any blotches or spots. To savor the unique flavor of the liver, simply sear it in a pan, then serve it on toast with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, flaky salt, and freshly ground pepper. Keep in mind that burbot liver should be consumed occasionally due to its high Vitamin D content.
Similarly, treat burbot roe like other small-egged roes. Brine them in ice water for a few hours or overnight, then dust them with flour and fry them in bacon fat. Serve with fresh herbs, such as chervil, and a squeeze of lemon.
Don’t let the eelpout bones and heads go to waste either. After removing the gills and guts, they can be used to make an excellent stock. With this stock, you can create a delicious burbot chowder or, better yet, a flavorful burbot risotto. Imagine combining the richness of the risotto with the freshness of wild lambsquarters. It’s a match made in culinary heaven!
Last but not least, the cheeks! Burbot cheeks are surprisingly large for the fish’s size and make a memorable treat for yourself or someone you love. Prepare poached burbot cheeks by first making a stock, then serve them with sambal, high-quality olive oil, roasted pumpkin seeds, and a touch of pepper. Trust me, the flavors will leave you speechless.
Cooking with Burbot
If you’re starting with skinless fillets, keep in mind that burbot fillets have a unique structure. They begin with thick, rounded loins above the ribcage and gradually flatten out towards the tail, resembling the shape of an eel.
The thin tail portion of the fillet is not suitable for dry cooking methods like baking or broiling as it tends to dry out and curl. Instead, sauté or fry these thin bits, or poach and flake them for a delectable addition to dishes like fish cakes with wild rice.
Burbot, being a lean fish like other codfish cousins, benefits from the addition of fats in recipes. Frying is a popular method, especially since those thick loins fry up just like Atlantic codfish. Trust me, you need to experience this in your life!
Another excellent option is oil poaching or butter poaching. Regular poached burbot turns out great, but to enhance the richness, drizzle some melted butter or a high-quality oil over the fish. Since burbot is a northern fish, I highly recommend using the best butter you can afford or, if available, cold-pressed extra virgin canola oil. Yes, it exists, and it’s remarkable.
Now, let’s not forget about the most famous burbot recipe of all: Poor man’s lobster. Although it may not taste exactly like lobster, it’s a tasty way to enjoy eelpout. Simply chunk skinless burbot meat and gently simmer it (avoid boiling) in 7-Up or Sprite, along with a pinch of salt, for about 10 minutes. Serve with melted butter and prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
Explore the Delicious Possibilities
Below, you’ll find a variety of fish recipes that can be easily adapted to feature burbot. Indulge in the flavors and dive into the world of burbot cuisine. Enjoy every bite, and may your fishing adventures be full of excitement and deliciousness!
Tight lines and happy cooking!