Build Flavor One Step after Another: One-Skillet Panfish Fry with Guinness Tartar Sauce

At 8:30 in the morning, after several sputters, our rental boat’s motor was completely dead.

On Lake Minnetonka, my dad and I sat floating halfway between Casco and Locke Point.

I kept quiet while my dad, a mechanic, fumbled with the motor. 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 slow and on my second cast, I retrieved it even slower. 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 panish.

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.

 

Serves 4 (Note: You will want to soak fillets in unsweetened almond milk a couple hours prior to prepping entire meal). 

Brussel sprouts

1 lb. Brussel sprouts

1 lb. thick-cut bacon, diced

1 c. sliced almonds

2 tbsp. butter

2 tsp. each of kosher salt and pepper

Directions

Heat a large cast iron skillet on medium heat until ready (approximately 5 minutes). Dice bacon and add to skillet, stirring often. Wash Brussel sprouts and cut all in half. Once bacon is crisp, drain through sieve and save grease. Add approximately 2 tbsp. of bacon grease back to skillet and add Brussel sprouts. Increase heat to medium-high in order to sear sprouts. Add 2 tbsp. butter and 2 tsp. each of salt and pepper and toss sprouts often to achieve even sear. Add sliced almonds. Remove once sprouts are soft but not mush. Set aside.

 

Guinness Tartar Sauce

1 c. mayonnaise

1/4 c. Guinness stout

1 tbsp. white wine vinegar

2/3 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/4 lemon, juiced

1/2 medium shallot, finely diced, deglazed with Guinness

1/2 tbsp. freshly minced garlic

2 tbsp. minced dill pickle

1/2 tbsp. pickle juice

1/2 tsp. each of salt and black pepper

6 dashes Cholula hot sauce

Directions

After removing sprouts, in remaining butter and grease, add ONLY diced shallots and fresh garlic. Cook until brown and soft and deglaze with Guinness. Stir often until Guinness is absorbed and skillet is mostly deglazed and clean. Add deglazed shallots and garlic to a mixing bowl and add remaining tartar sauce ingredients, mix thoroughly and refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

Fried potatoes

1 lb. russet potatoes, diced

1/2 medium yellow, diced

1/2 tbsp. each of kosher salt, black pepper, granulated garlic, sugar and chili powder

Directions

While bacon and sprouts cook, wash potatoes and dice into approximate 1-inch-by-1-inch cubes. Add to a large pot and cover with water. Set pot of water and potatoes on stove and heat on medium-high. Completely drain water immediately once it boils. Cover potatoes with spices and set aside until ready to fry.

After removing deglazed shallots and garlic from skillet, add remaining bacon grease, along with 2 c. peanut oil, to pan. Heat oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit before adding potatoes. Fry potatoes until golden brown, adding diced onion at end to brown. Remove all when golden and set on napkin-covered plate.

 

Panfish

2 lb. filleted panfish

32 oz. almond milk (unsweetened)

2 c. peanut oil for frying

Flour dredge

1-1/2 c. flour

1/2 tbsp. kosher salt

1/2 tbsp. black pepper

1 tbsp. granulated garlic

1 tbsp. onion powder

1 tbsp. paprika

1 tbsp. dry thyme

Directions

Soak filleted panfish in almond milk for 2 to 3 hours. Mix flour dredge. After removing fried potatoes from skillet, toss fillets two to three at a time through flour dredge and place into same oil and grease potatoes used, heated on medium to 350 degrees still. Fry both sides until golden brown then place on napkin-covered plate.

Optional: After all fish is fried, safely drain hot grease from skillet and quickly rinse with cold water and dry. Place fried potatoes, Brussel Sprout mix and fried fillets into skillet and place in oven at 300 degrees for 10 minutes to quickly warm before serving.