Did you know that walleye, a freshwater fish native to North America, is often hailed as the best-tasting fish by anglers and food enthusiasts alike?
Its unique flavor profile has earned it a special place in the hearts of many home cooks and professional chefs. As a home cook who loves exploring diverse ingredients, I can attest to the delightful culinary journey that walleye offers.
From its taste and texture to the various ways it can be cooked and enjoyed, we’ll cover it all in this guide to walleye.
How Does Walleye Taste?
When you first bite into a piece of well-cooked walleye, you’re met with a clean, mild flavor that’s pleasing to the palate.
The flavor is subtly sweet, not overly fishy like other types of fish, making it a hit even among those who are usually not big fans of seafood.
Walleye has a firm yet flaky texture that’s quite satisfying to eat. It’s tender and moist when cooked right, adding another layer to the overall taste experience.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that the taste of walleye can vary slightly depending on where it’s caught.
Walleye from cleaner, colder waters tend to have a more refined flavor compared to those from warmer, murkier waters. But walleye offers a truly delightful taste experience regardless of where it’s from.
Varieties Of Walleye
While walleye is a specific species of fish, there are slight variations in taste and texture depending on where they are caught. Here are a few examples:
- Northern Walleye: Caught in the colder freshwater lakes of the northern United States and Canada, these walleye are known for their clean, sweet flavor and firm, flaky texture. They are often considered the best tasting due to their pristine environments.
- Southern Walleye: Found in the warmer waters of the southern United States, these walleye have a slightly earthier flavor. They still maintain the characteristic firm and flaky texture, but their taste can be a bit more robust due to the warmer waters.
- Yellow Walleye: This is not a different species but refers to walleye during certain seasons when their scales take on a more yellow hue. The taste remains consistent with the mild, sweet flavor that walleye are known for.
What Does Walleye Compare With?
If you’re trying to imagine what walleye tastes like, here are a few comparisons to other common types of fish:
- Cod: Like walleye, cod has a mild, sweet flavor and a firm, flaky texture. However, cod tends to have a slightly denser texture and a less sweet taste.
- Haddock: Haddock and walleye share a similar flavor profile, being both mild and slightly sweet. Haddock, however, has a more delicate texture.
- Chicken: Believe it or not, many people compare the taste of walleye to chicken due to its mild flavor and firm texture. Of course, it’s not an exact match, but it gives you an idea of the walleye’s versatility in various dishes.
Do Walleye Taste Fishy?
With walleye, you’re in luck. This freshwater fish is far from the strong, fishy taste of some seafood.
In fact, one of the reasons why walleye is so popular is because of its non-fishy flavor. It’s a great choice for those who are new to eating fish or for those who prefer milder-tasting seafood.
However, like any fish, walleye can develop a fishier taste if it’s not fresh or if it’s not cooked properly.
To avoid this, it’s best to consume walleye when it’s fresh and to cook it using methods that will enhance its natural flavors rather than mask them. For example, a simple pan-fry with some butter and herbs can bring out the best in walleye.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that the taste of walleye can vary slightly depending on where it’s caught.
Walleye from cleaner, colder waters tend to have a more refined flavor, while those from warmer, murkier waters can have a slightly stronger taste. But even then, the taste is still mild compared to many other types of fish.
Do Walleye Smell Fishy?
Just as with the taste, the smell of walleye is also quite mild. When fresh, walleye should have a clean, almost neutral smell. It shouldn’t smell overly “fishy” or unpleasant.
However, as with any fish, the smell can become stronger if the walleye is not fresh or if it’s not stored properly.
To ensure the best quality, consuming walleye as soon as possible after it’s caught or purchased is recommended. If you need to store it, make sure to keep it in the coldest part of your refrigerator and use it within a day or two.
Finally, the way you cook walleye can also affect its smell. Cooking methods that lock in moisture, like baking or grilling, can help to minimize any potential fishy smell.
On the other hand, frying can sometimes intensify the smell, so it’s best to fry walleye in a well-ventilated area.
What Do Walleye Look Like?
Walleye are a fascinating fish species, not just for their taste but also for their distinctive appearance. They are generally olive and gold in color, creating a beautiful, recognizable contrast.
The olive coloration extends from the back, fading into a golden hue as it reaches the fish’s sides and belly.
The name “walleye” comes from the fish’s unique eyes. Walleye have a special layer of pigment in their eyes called the tapetum lucidum, which reflects light and gives their eyes a distinctive, glassy appearance.
This feature is particularly noticeable in low light conditions, where their eyes seem to glow in the dark.
Walleye are medium to large-sized fish, with adults typically measuring about 10 to 18 inches in length. However, some walleye can grow much larger, with the biggest recorded walleye measuring over 30 inches long!
Their bodies are elongated and slightly compressed, ending in a large mouth filled with sharp teeth.
When it comes to fillets, walleye meat is a beautiful, pearly white color. The fillets are thick and hearty, with a firm yet flaky texture that holds up well to various cooking methods.
How To Eat Walleye
Here are a few popular ways to enjoy walleye:
Frying is perhaps one of the most common ways to prepare walleye. The firm, flaky texture of the fish holds up well to the frying process, resulting in a deliciously crispy exterior and a moist, tender interior.
Fried walleye can be enjoyed on its own, served with a side of fries for a classic fish and chips meal, or used in a fish taco.
Grilling is another excellent way to cook walleye. The grill’s high heat sears the fish outside, locking in the moisture and creating a delightful charred flavor.
Grilled walleye can be served with a squeeze of fresh lemon for a light and healthy meal.
For a healthier option, walleye can be baked in the oven. This method allows the fish’s natural flavors to shine through, and it can be easily customized with different seasonings and sauces.
Baked walleye is a great choice for a simple, fuss-free dinner.
For something a bit different, try using walleye in a hearty chowder. The fish’s firm texture makes it a great addition to soups and stews, and its mild flavor complements the creamy base of a chowder beautifully. This is a comforting dish that’s perfect for colder weather.
How To Make Walleye Taste Good
Walleye is a delicious fish on its own, and you can enhance its flavor and make it even more enjoyable.
- Use Fresh Walleye: As with any fish, the fresher the walleye, the better it will taste. Fresh walleye has a clean, sweet flavor that’s hard to beat. If you can’t get fresh walleye, frozen is a good alternative.
- Don’t Overcook It: Walleye has a firm, flaky texture that can become tough if overcooked. To ensure a tender, moist result, cook walleye just until it flakes easily with a fork.
- Season Well: Simple seasonings like salt, pepper, and lemon can go a long way. Try using herbs like dill or spices like paprika for a more flavorful twist.
- Choose the Right Cooking Method: Different cooking methods can bring out different qualities in walleye. Frying gives it a crispy exterior, grilling adds a smoky flavor, and baking allows the natural flavors to shine. Experiment with different methods to see which one you like best.
- Pair with Complementary Sides: The sides you serve with walleye can also enhance its taste. Fresh vegetables, rice, or potatoes are all great choices that complement the flavor of the fish.
- Use a Good Sauce or Marinade: A good sauce or marinade can add an extra layer of flavor to walleye. Whether it’s a simple lemon butter sauce, a spicy Cajun marinade, or a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce, the right sauce or marinade can take your walleye to the next level.
How To Buy Walleye
When buying walleye, whether at a grocery store, fish market, or ordering from a restaurant, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure you’re getting the best quality.
Firstly, look at the fish’s appearance. Fresh walleye should have a bright, clear color with shiny, moist skin. If you’re buying whole walleye, the eyes should be clear and not cloudy, a sign of freshness. If you’re buying fillets, they should be pearly white and have no discoloration or dark spots.
Secondly, smell the fish. Fresh walleye should have a clean, almost neutral smell. It shouldn’t smell overly “fishy” or unpleasant. A strong fishy smell usually indicates the fish is not fresh.
When it comes to buying walleye at a restaurant, it’s a good idea to ask where the fish comes from. Walleye from cleaner, colder waters tend to have a more refined flavor.
Also, ask how the walleye is prepared. As we’ve discussed, different cooking methods can bring out different qualities in the fish.
Walleye might also be found under different names. In some regions, it’s also known as yellow pike or pickerel, although it’s important to note that it’s not the same as the European pike-perch, which is a different species.
Remember, buying the best quality fish is the key to a delicious walleye dish.
What is the best way to cook walleye?
The best way to cook walleye depends on your personal preference. This versatile fish can be fried, grilled, baked, or even used in a chowder. Frying gives it a crispy exterior, grilling adds a smoky flavor, and baking allows the natural flavors to shine.
How does the taste of walleye compare to other fish?
Walleye has a mild, sweet flavor that’s often compared to other white fish like cod or haddock. However, it’s less fishy than many other types of fish, making it a great choice for those who prefer milder-tasting seafood.
Is walleye a healthy choice of fish?
Yes, walleye is a healthy choice of fish. It’s a low-fat source of protein and contains beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.
Does the taste of walleye vary depending on where it’s caught?
Yes, the taste of walleye can vary slightly depending on where it’s caught. Walleye from cleaner, colder waters tend to have a more refined flavor, while those from warmer, murkier waters can have a slightly stronger taste. But even then, the taste is still mild compared to many other types of fish.