We were driving along a quiet country road, my parents and I, flanked on either side by farmland and the occasional solemn deer. It was dusk, and the day had been long- a drive downstate to a football game, complete with tailgating, cheering, and mustardy bratwurst wrapped in foil paper.
We passed a small, side-of-the-road smokehouse bearing a crooked sign: Smoked Whitefish. Stop! I cried. Call it a pregnancy craving, but I was suddenly unable to think of anything other than a flaky filet of whitefish, mixed and creamy in a hot dip. We bought the biggest filet we could find from the friendly owner, who chatted with us about the Detroit Lions offensive line, and had a row of bullet casings lining the brim of his baseball hat. I practically cradled the fish the rest of the way home.
Whitefish is ubiquitous in Northern Michigan; you can’t open up a menu in that state without seeing the Great Lake’ most popular fish in some form or another. Full of omega-3′s and good fats, low in mercury, it is a hungry pregnant lady’s dream. After being scared away from tuna, swordfish, sushi, oysters, and other favorite seafood, I can thankfully scarf all the whitefish I want and go to bed feeling smugly satisfied that the kid growing inside of me is getting some excellent nutrients. And, it helps abate my deep grief that I have to go a whole 9 months oyster-free. Whatever works, you know?
Since I don’t get home to Michigan as often as I would like, I tend to go a little food crazy once I’m there. A grocery run to Meijers is a must, as is drinking ridiculous amounts of Vernors, my beloved overly-carbonated ginger ale that is tough to get outside of Michigan. Tough, that is, until the Big Man surprised me on the opening night of his bar, when he told me he’d been able to source Vernors for the soda gun. I’ll blame pregnancy hormones for the fact that I got a little weepy upon hearing that. I’ll just be over here, drying my eyes in a vat of smoked whitefish dip.
This dip is great served hot or cold; though since another pregnancy no-no is refrigerated smoked fish, I recommend it piping hot and topped with a crusty layer of breadcrumbs. Can’t get your hands on smoked whitefish? Smoked trout is a fabulous stand-in. And check out this fascinating article from Milwaukee’s daily newspaper the Journal Sentinel from few years back, about how the whitefish of the Great Lakes seem to be evolving at a faster pace than normal.
Smoked Whitefish Dip
1 ½ cups flaked smoked whitefish filet
2 coves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons miracle whip
¼ cup sour cream
1-2 tablespoons minced chives
6 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 generous handful panko breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 375*F. Blend all ingredients except for the breadcrumbs together in a large bowl. Scrape into oven-proof serving dish, approximately 6” by 4”. Scatter the top with an even layer of breadcrumbs and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven for 10 minutes, until the cream cheese has started to bubble around the edges of the bowl, then broil on high for 1-3 minutes, keeping a close eye to make sure the breadcrumbs don’t blacken. Remove from the oven when the crumbs have turned a golden brown color. Serve hot with chips, crackers or sliced vegetables.