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June 23, 2018

6/8/2018 7:24:00 AM
the lake where you live
Ted Rulseh

No doubt you enjoy the occasional meal of fresh perch or panfish caught from your lake. But how do you prepare the fish for the pan?

Most people would report they filet them, artfully slicing the meat off the bones and peeling away the skin. But a few throwbacks like me do it the old-fashioned way - scale, behead and gut. We fry them up bones in, skin on. We'd argue they taste better that way, and we wonder exactly what it is that makes fish bones such an object of terror.

Yes, many people filet panfish because they're worried about the bones, as if getting poked in the tongue or tonsil were some sort of fall-off-the-chair-clutching throat calamity. I call this condition icthyosteophobia. That's itchy (fish) osteo (bone) phobia: The fear of fish bones.

In the do-it-yourself fish fry world, it's widespread.

I theorize this phobia is rooted in a tradition of the Catholic Church called the Blessing of the Throats, held on the feast day of Saint Blaise, Feb. 3. Saint Blaise was an Armenian bishop and martyr from Medieval Times known for, among much else, miraculously curing a boy who was choking on a fish bone.

Such an affliction must be frightening indeed if the full weight of a major religion is brought to bear upon it annually. One could make the case that St. Blaise is responsible for the sale of untold millions of filet knives.

There's nothing wrong with fileting fish, of course - to each his or her own. But for my money it's worthwhile to leave the bones in place. The risk of encountering a sharp fish bone in the mouth is easily outweighed by the benefits of fish cooked whole.

There's no need for heavy breading. Just a dusting of dry ingredients (corn meal, flour, store-bought batter mix) and a whisper of tartar sauce will bring out the unique and delicate flavor. The old-school method also means more fish flesh for the plate and less for the trash. Yes, even the most expert filet-knife wielder leaves some meat on the discarded bones.

If you're concerned about the bones and their hazards, all you need is a little understanding of fish anatomy. You have to know where the bones are in order to filet properly. They don't somehow get dispersed at random just because the fish is cooked. You can easily filet the fish after frying, on your dinner plate.

It's a simple procedure: Pull out the fins and their spines. Split the fish into two slabs along the backbone. Lift the backbone out. Scrape away the ribs with a fork. And there you have it: boneless fish, better tasting than any filet you've ever had. Well, I think so, anyway.

If you're interested in trying the old-school method of fish cleaning, you can learn about an interesting tool for the purpose at www.lessbones.com. I'm sticking to my trusty scaler and Victorinox pocket knife, but perhaps some younger or more adventurous souls would like to try a little new technology. Either way: No fear!

Ted Rulseh, who lives on Birch Lake in Harshaw, is the author of "The Lake Where You Live," a blog where readers can learn about the lakes they love - the history, geology, biology, chemistry, physics, magic, charm. Visit lakewhereyoulive.blogspot.com. Ted may be reached at trulseh@tjrcommunications.com.

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