Pickled Pike

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pickled pike recipe on the plate
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Every so often I get the good fortune to fly up to Canada in search of lake trout, rainbow trout and northern pike. And while I admire the beauty and grace of the trout and its cousins as much as anyone, pike get my blood racing.

Trout are a symphony, or perhaps John Coltrane. Northern pike are more like GWAR or Megadeath. Aggressive, arrogant, utterly indifferent to your catching and releasing them, slough sharks are insanely fun to catch.

Last year, using Elk Island Lodge as our base, my friend Shel from Travel Manitoba and I proceeded to catch pike after pike after pike after pike. I lost count at 60 fish, and Shel outfished me by a lot; she loves catching “jacks,” as she calls them, so much she has one tattooed on her in some unknown place. And she only halfway jokes about legally renaming herself “Jack Slayer,” a great name for a Canadian angler-turned-spy if you ask me.

Where we were fishing, Gods Lake in Manitoba, the action is mostly catch-and-release. We kept a few pike here and there for shore lunch, but virtually all our fish went back into the icy waters of Gods Lake.

Hank Shaw with pike
Photo by Shel Zolkewich

I did manage to catch one gigantic pike: This 39-incher, nabbed with the largest Daredevle lure I’ve ever thrown. I was perfectly happy to let this riot grrrl go (most large pike are female). That said, I did bring home some pike from that trip.

Pickled pike was the first way I ever ate this awesome fish, back in Minnesota more than a decade ago. Pike are under-appreciated as table fare in most parts of the world, something I find wildly unfair.

Yes, they have an extra set of bones, but once you learn how to fillet a pike, it’s pretty easy.

Pickled pike is perfect for smaller fish — you just fillet them like any other fish, skin them and cut the meat into bite-sized pieces, right through the bones.

The beauty of pickled pike is that the vinegar softens the bones so much you don’t even notice them. (This won’t work on a pike much larger than about 6 pounds, which is about 28 inches.)

If you’ve never eaten pickled pike, it’s basically a Scandinavian/Eastern European version of ceviche. Really, really good on crackers as a snack or as an appetizer. I like it with beer — kolsch, pilsner or a pale ale are my favorites here — but I hear the Swedes wash their pickled pike down with akavit. Skål!

pickled pike recipe
4.91 from 22 votes

Pickled Pike

Northern pike is traditional for this Scandinavian-style pickle, but you can use any firm, white fish. If it's a fish you can eat raw, like albacore or mahi mahi, you don't need to freeze the fish first. All other fish -- including pike -- you need to freeze for 48 hours before you can make this. This will kill any potential parasites in the meat; freshwater fish like pike can carry tapeworms, which you absolutely do not want, even if they are a great weight-loss strategy...
Course: Appetizer, Cured Meat
Cuisine: Scandinavian
Servings: 10 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Brine Time: 8 hours

Ingredients 

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 5 cups water, divided
  • 1 pound pike, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 cups cider or white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 2 teaspoons whole allspice
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 2 leaves bay
  • Peel of 1 lemon, sliced and white pith removed
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

Instructions 

  • Heat 4 cups of water enough to dissolve salt. Let this brine cool to at least room temperature, preferably colder. When it is cold enough, submerge the pike pieces in the brine and refrigerate overnight. Meanwhile, bring the sugar, vinegar, the remaining cup of water and all the spices to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and let this steep until cool.
  • When the pike has brined, layer it in a glass jar with the sliced lemon peel, bay leaves and red onion. Pour over the cooled pickling liquid with all the spice and seal the jars. Wait at least a day before eating, and I find it best after about a week to 10 days. Store in the fridge for up to 1 month.

Notes

Store your pickled fish in the coldest part of your fridge and it will keep for a solid month or even 6 weeks. Your nose will be your guide when it turns. Trust me.

Nutrition

Calories: 87kcal | Carbohydrates: 10g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 18mg | Sodium: 22mg | Potassium: 190mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 49IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 44mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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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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100 Comments

  1. Made this recipe using some pike from a Nebraska ice fishing trip this past winter. These are delicious 4 days after the pickling started. The added lemon and the crazy amount of salt distinguish these from the pickled herring we got in the grocery store as a kids. The herring from the store, I always ate with a cracker. This pickled pike, I’ve been eating straight out of the jar. Also, just a side note, I used 2 pounds of fish and didn’t change the amount of salt in the brine. There is still plenty of salt. And, I didn’t change the amount of pickling liquid either. Just did the recipe as written, but doubled the amount of fish.

  2. Just put my pike into the brine. Gonna pickle it tomorrow. I assume I remove it from the brine first? Do I rinse it? Thanks for any advice.

    Can’t wait to taste it!!

  3. In midcoast Maine we have tons of pickerel which make great pickled fish and a tongue twister. Fun to catch on a fly rod!

  4. Made this a week and half ago using this year’s walleye cheeks. Sitting out here on the ice, snacking with a beer, freaking phenomenal!

  5. Started this recipe from a cookbook, but didn’t realize it needed to be frozen for 2 days first. I’ve heard stories about tape worms, not something I want to mess with. I guess I’ll finish the brine since it’s already started, rinse it, then freeze for 2 days before proceeding with the vinegar and spices. Hopefully it turns out! Thanks for sharing the recipe.

    1. I don’t even know if you’ll see this since I’m replying to an article you did six months ago – pickled pike. Your recipe was much like mine but I like yours better. Mine has Worcester sauce, which I like and still use. But adding mustard seed was a good idea and actually noticible in the taste. But layering in the lemon peel was genius! I plan to try that with my mustard based bbq sauce.

      One suggestion for you. Early in the year when the jacks are voracious, just after ice out, I love to unlimber my fly rod. Catching hammer handles on a fly rod is a grand way to spend a crisp sunny morning.

      As an added bonus those fish make perfect pickled pike. And while I believe you about other fish pickling well, I think the only one that might be as tasty are perch, which I’ve never tried.

      Keep up the writing. Your knowledge of cooking along with hunting and angling offers, in my opinion, a public service.

  6. Hi Hank, I love your work. Have you ever tried pickling the pike with fresh fish, and freezing it after pickling? I am wishing I could keep some to share with family in a few months without just freezing the fish and pickling it later.

  7. After 8 hours in the salt brine the northern was a bit salty and tough. Would decreasing the amount of salt or the brine time make it less chewy?

    1. Cara: Correct. You will want to use thawed freshwater fish to be safe. It is salted and then pickled, a bit like ceviche.

  8. Hank,
    This is a great recipe and the flavor is fantastic, but it’s just a little to salty for me. Next time I will rinse my fish after I pull them from the brine.

    Have you ever tried using the pickling liquid over hard boiled eggs?

    I’m going to give it a try with my leftover liquid next time.

    Thanks for sharing!

  9. I’m from NW MN and have eaten pickled northern many times. However, I live in the twin cities now and my access to Pike is limited.

    What are your thoughts on using Pollock?

  10. Hank, any recipe suggestions for pickled fish that gets pressure canned?
    Not sure if the prior question/answer was stating the same thing, sorry if a duplicate.

    1. Garrett: So far as I know there is no USDA approved method for this. So I pickle what I can eat in a month or two, and keep it in the fridge.

  11. HELP! I think I may have ruined 1.5 pounds of bluefish and 1 pound of haddock. I was following your recipe and then left the fish in the brine for 5 days. Wasn’t thinking it would be a problem, I figured longer equals more cured? Was I wrong? I just moved the brined fish into new jars with the pickling spiced vinegar. Can it be saved? I’ve never brined anything but I am an avid and adventuresome cook, hence brining and pickling fish without a more seasoned chef at my side….What do you think? Thanks, D

    1. Deirdre: First off, I suspect it will be all way too salty. You can cook a piece and see. Second, bluefish is not a good fish for this: bluefish is oily and soft, and won’t get much better pickled. Sorry.

  12. First time trying it i added a few twists boiled the lemon peels and added garlic cloves and honey half cup pure honey for the sugar. Plus 1/3 cup sugar touch of Worcestershire sauce and some dill. We will see how it turns out ill comment after 3 days. Thank you everyone for your input.

  13. I’ve had mine in the fridge for 5 months I’m on my last jar just as good as it was 4 months ago it keeps slot longer than 6 weeks remember it’s pickled