Wild Recipes

Drum Roll Please. On Eating Freshwater Drum

Latest posts by Brandon Kimmett (see all)
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On our section of the Bay of Quinte in Lake Ontario, the walleye bite is reliably good from opening day on the first Saturday in May, until at least mid-summer. A particularly good concentration of shoals and shelves keep the walleye happy until the water really starts to warm.

Trolling these features, with worm harnesses on bottom bouncers, minnow-baits or spinners will reliably put fish in the boat. If jigging is your thing, that works too. I’ve even caught them off the dock while throwing spinnerbaits for bass.   

Countless walleye anglers in these parts know the heartbreak of losing a big walleye or two. I’ve also witnessed glee turn to rage, as a large fish get brought up to the boat, only to be the lowly freshwater drum, or as we call them ‘round here, sheepshead.

Almost always, these fish are thrown over the side with emotions ranging from disappointment to disgust. Little did these folks know, they were throwing back a high-quality and delicious protein source. Freshwater drum make amazing table fare and are as easy to work with as walleye or bass.   

Contrary to popular belief, this rich, fatty meat, doesn’t contain any extra bones, unlike many of the bottom dwellers it’s accused of hanging around with. That’s because sheepshead aren’t bottom dwellers. While they do eat crustaceans like crawfish, and more importantly in these waters, zebra mussels, they spend a good amount of their time eating similar baitfish to walleye.  

A single, average-sized drum provides a surprisingly large amount of firm and mild-tasting meat.

Like any other white-fleshed fish, it is great cut into thin pieces and breaded and fried. The neighbour down the road, who runs a camping park and fishing outfit, recommends cutting the filets into big chunks and treating them the same way you would chicken, to produce a fine nugget. He sees a lot of folks come back to camp with sheepshead – a family who’s rented a boat for the day doesn’t know what they’ve caught, let alone how to clean or cook it. So, he’ll offer up that “nugget” of wisdom. He’s never had a guest come back with a negative report.

Instead of being flakey like walleye, drum meat is thick and firm. The heartiness of the meat means it lends itself wonderfully to chowders and stews. It can be used in a similar manner to catfish. It’s known as gaspergou in other parts and plays a role in creole cooking.

The key to ensuring the cleanest, firmest meat possible, be sure to handle the fish properly after you catch it.

First off, you want to bleed it. Sever its gills with a sharp blade, and toss it in a bucket of water, or over the edge of the boat on a stringer; you can even use your live well if it’s your first (or only) catch of the day. After 10 or 15 minutes, get that fish onto some ice! If there’s room, I recommend always bringing a bucket and cooler of clean ice for all your bled catches. If you can’t, toss the drum into your beverage cooler and drink around it. Because freshwater drum meat is so fatty, it will go soft and mushy if allowed to warm, so keep that fish frosty!  

Admittedly, I’ve never actually caught a sheepshead. All the sheepshead I eat comes to our household via my partner Jenna. She fishes more than me, and more successfully than me. She even fishes sheepshead for fun, “they bite reliably and put up a hell of a fight”.

My favourite way to eat sheepshead is the Drum Roll.

The firmness of drum meat can even be a substitute for lobster. Naturally then, they are great poached, torn into chunks and dipped in butter. I’ve found I can only handle much of it this way because of the richness. I prefer my “poor person’s lobster” in roll form.

Again, this was Jenna’s idea. As I’d never had a Lobster Roll either, while Jenna had spent some years on the East Coast, the recipe I’ve provided for this was very much a collaborative effort. It’s relatively simple to make, extremely delicious, and way cheaper then lobster.

Well, I could go on and on about how awesome the freshwater drum, or sheepshead, or gaspergou… whatever you call it, is. This fish deserves much more love on the dinner table than it currently receives. Give drum a chance. You might just like it.

Makes: 4 servings
Duration: 30 minutes



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Drum Roll Please. On Eating Freshwater Drum

Recipe by Brandon Kimmett
0.0 from 0 votes
Course: Wild Recipes
Servings

4

servings
Prep time

15

minutes
Cooking time

15

minutes
Cook Mode

Keep the screen of your device on

Ingredients

  • For Poaching
  • 1 lb Freshwater Drum Filet, cut into large chunks

  • 8 Cups Water

  • ¾ Cups Sweetener of choice (Sugar/Honey, etc)

  • ¼ Cup Salt

  • 1 Lemon, Cut in half

  • 1 Tbsp Lovage (or celery leaves), Chopped

  • 1 Tbsp Tarragon, Chopped

  • 1 Bay Leaf

  • 5 Peppercorns

  • For Roll
  • Cooked Freshwater Drum Meat, Chopped smaller if desired

  • 1 Stick Celery, Minced

  • 4 Tbsp Mayonnaise

  • 2 Tbsp Butter

  • 1 Tbsp Lemon Juice

  • 1 Tbsp Chives, Chopped

  • 1 tsp Lemon Zest

  • Black Peppercorn, Ground, added to taste

  • Salt, To taste

  • 4 Split-Top Brioche Buns, sides cut off

  • For Garnish
  • 2 Tbsp Lovage (or celery leaves), Chopped

  • 2 Tbsp Tarragon, Chopped

Preparation

  • For Poaching
  • In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Add sugar and salt and stir until dissolved.
  • Squeeze lemon into pot, add the rest of ingredients and simmer. (5 mins)
  • Add fish and simmer until meat floats freely on surface. (5-10 mins)
  • Remove cooked fish from water with slotted spoon and set aside.
  • For the Rolls
  • Combine mayonnaise, celery, lemon juice, chives, lemon zest and add salt and pepper to your liking.
  • Melt butter in a cast iron pan. Add fish and toss just long enough to soak meat in butter. (1 min)
  • Remove drum meat with slotted spoon and add to mayonnaise mixture. Fold in until incorporated together. Leave empty skillet hot.
  • Toast buns in buttery skillet until golden brown.
  • Add generous amount of filling to each roll and garnish with herbs. Serve with new potatoes drenched in butter or your favourite potato chip.

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Brandon Kimmett

Brandon Kimmett is an Angler, Forager, Hunter and Homesteader; located on the shores of the Bay of Quinte in Prince Edward County, Ontario. His focus lies in the culinary pursuits of lesser-known and under-appreciated fish, game and plant species. He aims to bring awareness to the diverse edible landscape that exists, in the place he calls home.

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