Maine Cusk Chowder – An Ice Fishing Tradition

During the Fall our fully guided Maine trophy moose hunts take up most of our time, but come Winter Ice fishing in Maine is a yearly winter tradition for us. Recently we headed up to a favorite lake to hit the hard water in search of cusk (freshwater burbot) and hopefully a few togue (lake trout). Mark took along his wife and stepsons for some of the action and it turned out to be a busy day with lots of fish caught!! As luck would have it, we went home with plenty of cusk to fillet up and fill the freezers. We even made a big batch of fish stock from some of the carcasses to freeze up for future chowders!! Here is our method for skinning, filleting, and making one of the best chowders you’ll ever have!!!

Mark with a nice Maine togue he jigged up just before releasing it back down the hole
Mark with a nice Maine togue he jigged up just before releasing it back down the hole
Ian with a nice Maine togue he caught on a heritage laker tip up.
Ian with a nice Maine togue he caught on a heritage laker tip up.
Brian with a nice Maine togue he jigged and released
Brian with a nice Maine togue he jigged and released
All in a days work, but the real work of filleting and packaging this days catch for the freezer was yet to come!
All in a days work, but the real work of filleting and packaging this days catch for the freezer was yet to come!

We have found the best method of filleting cusk is to first skin them. Skinning them is very easy and it really helps cut down on the slime that will be all over your table or cutting board once you fillet them, plus it make filleting much easier. Take a sharp knife and cut around the back of the head just through the skin and around the whole fish. Then with a pair of pliers, grab the skin and pull down towards the tail. Work the pliers around both sides of the fish if you need to, but they skin very easily if done fresh.

 

 

Mark skinning the cusk with a pair of pliers after cutting around the fish.
Mark skinning the cusk with a pair of pliers after cutting around the fish.
cusk that have been skinned and waiting to be filleted.
cusk that have been skinned and waiting to be filleted.

 

A filleted cusk
A filleted cusk
All the cusk fillets ready to be rinsed and vacuum sealed
All the cusk fillets ready to be rinsed and vacuum sealed

We cleaned and saved about ten carcasses for our fish stock that would be used as the base to our chowder. All the guts, skin, and heads were removed. We washed them up good and got all the blood/slime off them. Then we put them in a pot, covered them with water, brought to a boil, and let simmer for a couple hours while we finished filleting and packing all the fish. After the fish cooled off we strained all the bones/carcasses out of it, then placed it in tubeware containers for freezing.

The cusk carcasses for our stock after being cleaned up
The cusk carcasses for our stock after being cleaned up
the stock cooling off ready to be strained
the stock cooling off ready to be strained

Chowder is easy to make and takes about a half hour. Slice up some salt pork and fry it until you cook the fat off it. Take the pork out and brown a diced up onion in the pork fat. Transfer the browned onions and fat drippings over to a clean stew pot. Add diced up potatoes (about half as many or equal to as many pounds of fish). Then take your stock and fill up the pot until it doesn’t quite cover the potatoes. Place all the cusk fillets on top of the potatoes and partially submerged in the stock. Add desired seasoning. I use a liberal amount of old bay, salt, and pepper all over the fish. Cover it and bring to a boil then reduce the heat and cook until potatoes are tender. By laying the cusk on top of the potatoes and not down in the water fully submerged, the cusk basically gets lightly boiled depending on water level, but mostly steamed that way the cusk is not all mush once done. Take a fork and break apart all the fish into small chunks and stir it through the chowder. Add a couple of cups of heavy cream. Thicken it with corn starch/water if you desire, and season some more if needed. Thats it!! A classic Maine freshwater cusk chowder that goes down real well on a cold Winter day.

The chowder after boiling until the potatoes are tender. All that is left is to break the fish up, add cream, and mix it all through the chowder.
The chowder after boiling until the potatoes are tender. All that is left is to break the fish up, add cream, and mix it all through the chowder.

We also caught a number of tasty lake whitefish this day that we took home for the smoker. Stay tuned for another blog post about our smoking method that we have fine tuned during our time working in Alaska and smoking lots of fresh caught Alaska salmon!! For information about a guided ice fishing adventure check out www.eaguides.com

Lake Whitefish
Lake Whitefish
smoked whitefish! Tasty!!!
smoked whitefish! Tasty!!!

 

 

Author: Brian Donaghy

Professional Maine Hunting Guide and Alaskan Fly Fishing Guide.
www.EAGUIDES.com
www.HOODOOFISHING.net

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