Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fresh Crappies from Tommy's at Baltimore's Northeast Market

The crappies on ice at Tommy's in Baltimore's Northeast Market were practically still breathing, and a lot bigger than any I've ever landed with rod and reel. A trip this time of year to Tommy's at Baltimore's Northeast Market has become for me a tradition that's held for at least a decade.

Pleasing as the fish themselves at Tommy's is the way they clean them for you. Purchased from elsewhere, unless fileted, I can almost count on having to complete a once-over effort at scaling and gutting upon arriving home . At Tommy's, I just say head off, scale them, remove the guts, save any roe sacks, and leave the fins and tail as they are---so I can enjoy them fried up crisp and crunchy. Then I run off to purchase and woof down a fried turkey wing with hot sauce a few isles back. Five minutes later, my crappies are ready. The one pictured above and another just as big set me back about a total of $5.00. When I get them home, it's clear that the folks at Tommy's did everything right. All the scales are off, and every quirky detail of my instructions was followed.

The original reason for this trip to Tommy's was to find yellow perch. When in season, which is usually about now, the only place I can count on for sure to have them is Tommy's. Not today it turned out. Later, I would learn that Maryland's DNR had prohibited both the harvest and sale of yellow perch this year between Feb. 1 and March 14. My consolation was an early season presence of crappies and bluegill. No one loves the sport of fishing for panfish more than I, or for that matter indulging in the end product. However, neither the fish nor my luck as a fisherman has been running too well lately. Last week, my son and I spent a day fishing for yellow perch below the dam at Wye Mills and returned to Baltimore with a single crappie less than half the size of the one in the top picture.

My preparation techniques haven't changed much since two years ago when Unique Culinary Adventures posted about the panfish at Tommy's: Assuming they're properly scaled and gutted, rinse the fish and any roe sacks and then dry with paper towels. Next dredge in a mixture of half flour and half cornmeal seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little paprika. Heat up equal parts of vegetable oil and butter over medium high heat and when hot enough for them to sizzle, fry up the fish, turning once, til golden brown.

On rare occasions over the years, I've observed panfish at other fish stalls around town, but never as consistently as at Tommy's. The best part is how fresh they are if you get there at the right time.