Any angler who’s visited Minnesota or talked with a Minnesotan knows those folks are walleye fanatics. Some might argue that these fish do not put up a good fight and do not even taste that great — that they’re bland and have nowhere near the flavor of trout. But I can say as someone who briefly lived in Minnesota that I completely bought into the walleye hype. I absolutely love fishing for and eating marble-eyes. That’s why I decided to recreate this classic McDonald’s sandwich using one of my favorite fish to eat. (Fun Fact: McDonald’s uses Alaska pollock, also known as walleye pollock, for their sandwich, although the Alaska pollock, despite its secondary name, is not closely related to walleye.)
- 2 fully thawed walleye fillets, 1/2 inch thick and 6-8 ounces each
- 1 quart of buttermilk
- 2 St. Pierre Brioche buns
- 2 slices of American cheese
For the batter and breading
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 beaten eggs for egg wash
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs, pulsed for finer crumbs
- Peanut oil (or similar cooking oil) for frying
For the tartar sauce
- 1 tablespoon Vlasic kosher dill small pickles, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon capers, mostly puréed
- 1 teaspoon freshly minced flat-leaf Italian parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon white sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup mayonnaise
Makes two servings
If you’re making this sandwich from a fresh catch, you’ll want to remove the meat from the skin. To do so, take a very sharp fillet knife and make a cut toward the tail-end of the fillet, separating enough flesh from the skin that you can grip the skin. Next, angle the knife downward at 15-20 degrees, and, using your grip on the skin, pull the rest of the fillet toward you while you work the knife gently back and forth.
For larger walleyes, you’ll want to make an incision to the left and right of the line of bones in the fillet. From there, you can basically pull either side of meat off the fillet, away from the bones. This is sometimes referred to as unzipping a walleye. For 12-inchers, this step may not be necessary. Ideally, you want to portion the fillets so they will fit the bun.
Soak your walleye fillets in buttermilk for 2-3 hours. Then, get started on the tartar sauce. Thoroughly blend Vlasic kosher dill pickles (two small, gherkin-size pickles work here) with capers and fresh lemon juice. When contents have mostly a fine or pureed texture, mix the food processor contents with mayo and the remaining ingredients. Finely chop the parsley by hand and add (do not blend in the food processor). Salt to taste. If it isn’t tart enough, add a little more fresh lemon juice. Cover and set aside in the refrigerator.
After your fillets are done soaking, heat the cooking oil in a fryer, Dutch oven, or something similar to 375 degrees F. Then prepare your battering station. In one large tray, add flour, cornstarch, and spices and mix thoroughly. In a large mixing bowl, add the beaten eggs. In another large tray, add the panko bread crumbs. (You can pulse panko bread crumbs a dozen or so times in a food processor for finer bread crumbs, but this step is not essential.) Right before frying, turn on your oven broiler to get it ready for toasting buns and melting cheese over fried fillets.
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When the oil is up to temperature, pull a fillet from the buttermilk, toss it in the flour-and-cornstarch mix, add it to the egg wash, coat it in panko bread crumbs, and add to the hot oil. While your fillets are cooking, toast each bun under the broiler, add tartar sauce, and set aside. Fry each fillet until all sides are golden brown. Set the fried fillets on a broiler-safe rack and add a slice of cheese to each. Place cheese-topped fried walleye under the broiler for around 10 seconds, just to melt the cheese, then immediately add the fillet to your tartar-coated toasted bun.