While Maryland might be famous for crab, Minnesota has walleye. And like a real Maryland Crab Cake, my Minnesota Walleye Cakes are about the pure indulgence of clustered flakes of tender sweet meat with as little filler as possible to get in the way.
Why are they called Farm-Girl Walleye Cakes? Like many folks in the outdoor industry, I was raised on a farm. A central Minnesota 80-acre hobby farm was home for 20 years. Hobby farm? That means my mom and dad had “real” jobs, and farming was their hobby. In reality, it was a full-time work, too. Yes, we lived “permaculture,” before permaculture was a trendy topic. It was just mindful family farming.
Along with maintaining a livestock inventory, we planted field corn, alfalfa, and oats for the livestock; we baled our own hay, and harvested our own grains. We also had a massive vegetable garden, and row upon row of cultivated raspberry bushes. When farm and garden work was done, fishing and hunting pursuits occupied our time as we laid up stores of wild game for the freezer.
I was taught how to shine and pluck nightcrawlers from the heavy soil in our yard on rainy June evenings after a thunderstorm had passed, and how to hook live squirming leeches onto homemade spinners with a No. 4 Aberdeen hook by letting it suck my thumbnail. We often dropped those lines as a family into one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes.
Mother and Dad were excellent fishermen. Dad passed a year ago, but my mother, Donna, (now in her 80s), still enjoys getting out on the water and wetting her line in my brother’s boat, or when canoeing with my sister and me in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. In fact, as I write this, we’re prepping for our annual trip to the wilderness.
When they fished together, Mom usually had the best luck and the most sensitive hand. Not that Dad wasn’t accomplished, but Mom has exceptionally fine motor skills. Her lifelong passion with needle and thread, and her exacting nature as seamstress and quilter, seem to have heightened her ability to detect subtlety at the end of a sharp pointy object. So, in addition to an abundance of fresh homegrown produce, beef, poultry, canned goods, jams, jellies, fruit sauces, root veggies, and wild game, we also had a generous amount of freshwater fish such as crappies, sunnies, and walleyes in the freezer.
At the time, I considered farm living far from romantic and rustic. I lamented the chores, the manual labor, and the relative isolation that characterized rural living. Since, I have come to value the freedoms it afforded, the quality of life delivered, the lessons learned, and work ethic engrained. It was a peaceful and fulfilling country life — working not for self, but together for the welfare, viability and pleasure of the family.
Though I use walleye fillets in this family favorite, crappies or northern pike are equally suitable.
1 pound poached walleye
1 T fresh chopped herbs
¼ cup mayo
2-4 T Panko Japanese Bread Crumbs (coarse crumb adds crunch)
¾ t seafood seasoning
1 egg beaten
Dijon mustard to taste (brightens the flavors)
¼ C Flour
oil for frying
Amount of bread crumbs depend on juiciness of meat
Mix together thinly sliced scallion, herbs, mayo, seafood seasoning, and mustard. Gently fold in poached walleye, taking care not to break large flakes and small nuggets. Add 2 T Panko bread crumbs. Fold in beaten egg. If the meat doesn’t seem to be binding, add more bread crumbs a tablespoon at a time until it does.
Form into desired size cakes. Put on a baking pan lined with parchment paper and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to 24. This ensures that the cakes will hold together during frying.
When ready to fry, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmery. Lightly dredge cakes in flour and then gently lay in pan in batches. Cook until exterior is crispy and browned. Serve immediately as is, or with choice of sauce(s) and wedges of lemon.
Author’s note: In lieu of a homemade tartar sauce, I used a Sriracha sour cream (Sriracha, sour cream, mayo, and ½ & ½ cream to thin), as well as a Fresh Herb Green Sauce (olive oil, garlic, lemon, herbs, S&P, mayo).
Images by Krissie Mason