Eat more Burbot

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Here’s how to cook burbot, also called eelpout, ling, lawyer fish and mariah, among other names. Burbot are a freshwater cod, but because they’re scary looking, many anglers throw them back. I’m hoping to change that.

Hank Shaw holding a burbot caught in British Columbia.

To start, you’ll find burbot in deep, cold fresh water, usually lakes, around the northern tier of the world. Yep, you read that right: world. Lota lota, as this fish is known in Latin, is circumpolar: You’ll find them in Europe and Asia as well as North America.

Here, you’ll start seeing them north of 40 degrees latitude, which is a line from about the Oregon border with California across to southern New York. They are common in the Great Lakes, Minnesota and Wisconsin, Michigan, Montana and the Dakotas. And, of course, Canada.

Burbot live at the bottom, like their codfish cousins, prowling about looking for something to eat. It’s slim pickins down there, so burbot tend to be fierce biters; you know when you have one on the line.

Their mottled camo coloring changes depending on where they live, and even between individuals, but it’s always a speckly green-yellow-brown. They most closely resemble the Atlantic cusk, another codfish cousin, one I’ve caught many times over the years.

Historically, burbot, eelpout, whatever you want to call them, have been considered a trash fish by anglers of all stripes. The Cree guides I fished with on Gods Lake in Manitoba wouldn’t touch them, and when I wanted to cook shore lunch from burbot, they made me set up my own pan, grease and fire!

That said, the prejudice is changing slowly as more and more anglers take the plunge and actually try some burbot recipes. But first, you need to clean them.

Two burbot caught in Manitoba, Canada.

Cleaning Burbot

Preparing eelpout is really just as easy as you might think: Fillet the fish as normal, and skin it.

I’ve seen anglers treat them like catfish, where you score the skin around the head and use pliers to yank off the skin, and that certainly works, but it isn’t needed. Burbot skin is scaleless and slick, like an eel’s, but it’s not nearly as slimy.

Their ribcages are rotund, too, so you will either want to slice around them on a large fish, or whack right through them on smaller fish. I split the difference and use kitchen shears to snip the ribs while filleting, then slip the knife under the ribs to remove.

Burbot fillets on a cutting board, showing the thick and thin portions.

save the liver! (among other things)

Yes, please do. And the roe, if there is any, and the bones. And the head. Oh man, burbot heads hold one of freshwater fishing’s greatest treasures: Big, giant cheek meat!

Burbot liver is very high in Vitamin D, and is creamy-fatty most of the time. Look for livers that are clean-looking, not blotchy or spotted.

A clean burbot liver need only be seared in a pan, then served on toast with balsamic vinegar and some flaky salt and freshly ground pepper. They are super high in Vitamin D, though, and too much of this vitamin can be toxic to you, so eat burbot liver only occasionally. But it’s worth it.

I treat burbot roe like most small-egged roes: Brine in ice water a few hours or overnight, drain, dust in flour and fry in bacon fat. Serve with fresh herbs (chervil is especially nice) and lemon.

Eelpout bones and heads, once the gills and guts are removed, can be used to make an excellent stock. And with that stock, you can make a burbot chowder or better yet, a burbot risotto. I made one for a special dinner in British Columbia that was a hit. I used wild lambsquarters as the herb. It was amazing.

A bowl of burbot risotto with lambsquarters and wild plea flowers.

Cheeks. Oh man, the cheeks! Burbot cheeks are very large for the fish’s size, and will make an unforgettable treat for yourself, or someone you love. Unless you have caught a bunch of burbot, then you can serve others.

This is a dish of poached burbot cheeks, pulled after making stock, served with sambal, high quality olive oil and roasted pumpkin seeds, plus a little pepper. Like the risotto, it too was amazing.

A plate of burbot cheeks with sambal, olive oil, roasted pumpkin seeds and pepper.

burbot recipes

Most of you will be starting with skinless fillets. Know that an eelpout fillet is structured differently than many other fish. It will start out with thick, rounded loins above the ribcage, then flatten out into more traditionally shaped fillets toward the fish’s eel-like tail.

Burbot fillets do get very thin towards the tail, and this portion is not good for any sort of dry cooking, like baking or broiling, because it will desiccate and curl quickly. These thin bits are really best sauteed or fried, or poached and flaked out for something like my fish cakes with wild rice.

Burbot is not a fatty fish. Like all codfish cousins, they are very lean. This means you will want to add fat somewhere in your recipe. Frying is very popular, especially because those thick loins fry up exactly like Atlantic codfish. You want this in your life.

Fried burbot, showing the flake of the fish. 0

Oil poaching or butter poaching is a great option, too. Regular poached fish works well, but you will want to drizzle the burbot with butter or a fancy oil at the end to add richness. Since it’s a northern fish, I recommend the best butter you can afford, or, if you can find it, cold-pressed, extra virgin canola oil. Yep, it’s a thing.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the most popular of all burbot recipes: Poor man’s lobster. As a guy who grew up eating lobster, I can tell you it’s not lobster. But it is a good way to eat eelpout. Simply chunk up skinless burbot meat and simmer it gently — don’t boil — in 7-Up or Sprite, plus a healthy pinch of salt, for about 10 minutes. Serve with melted butter.

Weird? You betcha. But it works!

Below are a host of other fish recipes that will work well with burbot. Enjoy, and tight lines!

A plate of Spanish green sauce over fish

Fish with Spanish Green Sauce

I am using cusk, hake or cod here, but any fish will work, as would chicken or pork or other white meats.
View Recipe
A bowl of pike soup.

Pike Soup Manitoba

This recipe works equally well with burbot. Any firm white fish will do.
View Recipe
butter poached halibut on a summer salad

Butter Poached Fish with Seasonal Salad

This is a master recipe for any oil or butter-poached fish, including burbot.
View Recipe
Two hands holding a fried fish sandwich

Fried Fish Sandwich with Tartar Sauce

Make these sandwiches with the back part of burbot fillets, from behind the ribs back to the tail.
View Recipe
fish risotto recipe

Fish Risotto, Venice Style

This is the recipe for that burbot risotto I mentioned above. It's a killer dish that works with any lean, white fish.
View Recipe
Three pieces of fried walleye with lemon wedges.

Buttermilk Fried Walleye

Buttermilk fried burbot is every bit as good. I like to use the thick part of the fillets for this recipe.
View Recipe
Midwestern fish cakes on a plate with a green salad.

Fish Cakes with Wild Rice

The ultimate northern fish cake. This one uses wild rice and fresh herbs. You'll want to use flaked, cooked tail portions of burbot here.
View Recipe
A bowl of perch chowder.

Lake Erie Perch Chowder

A Great Lakes chowder designed for yellow perch, but which works very well with burbot, too. Don't skimp on the smoked sausage!
View Recipe
A plate of sake poached fish with greens and togarashi.

Sake Poached Fish

This one is great for the thick parts of burbot fillets. Make sure you use good oil at the end to liven things up. Sesame oil here.
View Recipe
fish with honey and ouzo on a plate

Greek Honeyed Fish

I love this recipe with the chunky parts of burbot fillets! It's a knockout dish you can make in minutes.
View Recipe
Closeup of Thai fish curry in a bowl

Thai Fish Curry

A slightly more exotic recipe for burbot, this one shines with the firm meat. Go full fat on the coconut milk!
View Recipe
Mexican fried fish recipe

Mexican Fried Fish

This is perfect for the thin parts of burbot fillets. You fry them hard, so they're almost crunchy, then serve with salsa as a snack. It's a winner.
View Recipe

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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3 Comments

  1. I love burbot. It’s one of my favourite fish, and I say that having only been lucky enough to eat it twice. It doesn’t seem to exist here in Portugal, or if it does I’ve never seen it. Wonderful recipes by the way.

  2. Lots of burbot up here in your new home state of Minnesota! Burbot is my family’s favorite fish to eat. They’re a blast to catch, and definitely the biggest fish you can target after game fish seasons close in late February. I once cleaned one with a 12″ rainbow trout in its belly, so I don’t think you can use too large of a lure. I’m not sure if it scavenged the trout after it died or chased it down and ate it, but I lean towards the latter since we regularily catch them suspended 20′ below the ice in 40+’ of water in that particular lake.