Northern pike are a well-known gamefish in many parts of the world. They are often caught by walleye, trout, musky, and bass anglers, and sometimes seen as a ‘trash fish‘.
This begs the question, are northern pike good to eat? Why the sub-par reputation? After all, they are pretty good fighters and often located in cold, clean water.
In this article, I’m going to clear the air on Northern Pike and determine if they deserve a spot at the dinner table. Read on, because you might be surprised!
Are Pike Good To Eat?
The meat, flavor, and texture of Northern Pike is good, contrary to popular belief. Many anglers are dismayed by the presence of bones in the fillets, which make cleaning and cooking difficult. However, with the correct preparation, recipe, and fish selection, Northern Pike are much better than most people think.
In Europe, pike have a very long history as a prestigious food source. Archaeologists have discovered pike recipes that date back to the Roman Empire!
In parts of medieval Europe, it was tradition to present the victorious knight at a joust with a fully cooked northern pike to feed himself and his entourage. Knights also often painted pike on their shields as part of their personal heraldry!
But, let me be clear…just because people have been eating pike for hundreds of years, that does not mean they are white flaky fillets like a yellow perch or black crappie.
Like all fish, fowl, and wild game, there is usually a method to the madness when it comes to edibility and desirability and Northern pike are no exception.
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Best Size Northern Pike To Eat
The best size Northern Pike to eat are smaller-medium sized fish, from 18-26 inches.
In general, younger and usually smaller fish tend to taste better than older, larger fish. This is true with largemouth bass, walleye, and especially catfish.
Some people suspect it’s because younger fish are ‘tender‘…others theorize it may be due to larger fish absorbing more environmental flavors in the meat (mud, weeds, etc).
Can you eat large size pike? Of course, they are perfectly edible. But most anglers choose to release larger breeder fish and instead keep a few smaller pike for the fryer.
Note: In some locations, such as southeast Alaska and places in Europe, Northern Pike are invasive and can have adverse ecological effects on native fish and fauna.
What Does Pike Taste Like?
The flavor of pike is mild-moderate in terms of ‘fishy’ flavor. The texture is semi-firm, and fillets are usually pearl-yellow in color.
Some anglers complain that Pike is ‘fishy’, and yes it can have a bit stronger flavor than other cold-water fish. However, that doesn’t mean that pike tastes bad…some people love the taste of tuna, and I happen to think it is quite fishy!
In my opinion, the flavor of fish is influenced by two sources: The fish itself (and where it comes from), and the cook! Yes, the cook, and recipe dictates how a fish tastes!
How To Make Sure Your Pike Tastes Good
Dealing With The Y- Bones
Bones are the issue that most people think about when dealing with pike. While you can simply fillet it in such a way as to leave the ribs behind, the y-bones require a little more work.
Smaller pike are often ground fine to make forcemeat, a preparation made from combining equal amounts of raw pike meat and fat (usually pork). This forcemeat is then used to make fish mousses, patties, or other dishes. The grinding eliminates the bones.
For larger pike, it’s necessary to debone the fish. This can be done in several ways.
One of the simplest ways is to remove the y-bones from the filet after is cooked. All you have to do is cut the filet in half-steaks. This exposes the bones very clearly, and they slide right out of the cooked flesh with little or no resistance.
Remove The Skin & Rinse Thoroughly
Many pike anglers also say that Pike are ‘slimy‘…. (arent all fish a little slimy?) In any case, that slime and skin don’t make for good eating, so be sure to remove the skin, and rinse your fillets thoroughly.
Try Freezing Before Eating
Okay, this one sounds a bit contrary, but many anglers swear by actually freezing pike fillets before eating, crazy I know!
Nearly all fish are better when eaten fresh, however many pike anglers swear that the freezing process helps to tenderize the meat, and remove offset flavors.
Give it a try! Freezing your fish first may be the trick to make Pike a staple at your dinner table.
Is Pike Good For You?
Northern Pike is a very healthy fish as long as it comes from clean water. They are high in protein, vitamin B, healthy Omega 3 fatty acids, as well as many other vitamins and minerals.
Like any other top predator fish, you should be careful of eating too many of the older, really large ones, since contaminants like mercury can accumulate over time.
Always check with your local game and fish agency or health department on fish consumption advisories in your area.
Cooking Northern Pike
Once your pike is properly prepared, there are all kinds of good recipes. Some people like to cut the bigger ones to make steaks and bake them, like salmon.
Boneless filets, battered and fried are always a good choice, as are stews and soups and fish balls. In Europe, smoked pike and pickled pike are very popular.
(I’m personally a sucker for fried fish with grits, baked beans, and a salad)…
Anything you can do with mild white meat fish, you can do with a pike!
So the next time you are on the lake or river, and you catch a nice eating-sized Northern Pike, throw it on ice and look up your favorite recipe. Watch the video in this article to remove the Y-bones, and I bet you will be pleasantly surprised!
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