Marie’s (Fish) Cheeks

Lake trout fish cheeks as prepared in the recipe below. Image credit: Marie Zhuikov, Wisconsin Sea Grant

Did you know that fish have cheeks? And did you know you can eat them?

Well they do and you can. Several species of fish, both saltwater and freshwater have cheeks that are large enough to harvest. These include halibut, grouper, cod, walleye, whitefish and lake trout. About the size of a scallop, fish cheeks are prized for their firm texture and tenderness.

They’re usually not available in supermarkets, but if you’re near a commercial fisherman, you might be in luck. During a recent trip to the Bayfield Peninsula in Wisconsin I stopped by Halvorson’s Fisheries in Cornucopia where they had frozen lake trout fish cheeks for sale. I’d never had them before, so was intrigued. I bought a half pound and took them home in my cooler.

About a week later, after taking time to peruse different recipes available online, I thawed the cheeks and prepared them based on a halibut cheeks recipe courtesy of The Culinary Chase. Because I only had half the amount of cheeks, I halved the recipe, plus made my own tweaks.

The result was highly edible. Next time, I’ll delete the flour. It made them a bit mealy and I don’t think they need it. In case you want to try, here’s what I did. By the way, the Eat Wisconsin Fish website run by Wisconsin Sea Grant offers many great fish recipes that you may also want to check out.

MARIE’S FISH CHEEKS RECIPE (wheat- and corn-free)

½ lb fish cheeks
½ cup white rice flour
Sea salt and black pepper
1 Tablespoon butter
½ Tablespoon olive oil
3 green onions, green parts, diced
1-1/2 teaspoons capers, rinsed
splash of cooking wine or sherry
1 lemon wedge
1 teaspoon dried parsley

Rinse the fish cheeks and pat them dry with a paper towel. Put the flour in a pie tin or a plate and add salt and pepper to taste. Add the fish cheeks and gently tap off any excess flour.

In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and add the olive oil. Swirl until the butter and oil are mixed and bubbly. Add the scallions and cook briefly until tender. Place the cheeks into the butter and brown until cooked, just a minute or two each side. Time will vary depending on the size of the cheeks, but no longer than 5 minutes total should be needed.

When you flip the fish over, add capers, wine, and squeeze the lemon wedge over the cheeks. Add an additional ½ Tablespoon of butter and allow to melt. Shake the pan and remove from heat. Sprinkle the fish cheeks with parsley and serve right away.