Snakehead Summer Rolls
For us, summer is synonymous with snakehead fishing.
We get out a few times a year to the Chesapeake Bay to fish saltwater, but most of the fishing we do is right here in our backyard, the Potomac River & its tributaries. Snakehead are abundant here, but they are as intelligent & fickle as they are hard-fighting, and that means endless summer days casting topwater, scanning the water’s surface for finning fish & dark shapes in the shadows. We’ve gotten good at it- really good, by almost any standard- but these fish are responsible for as much frustration as joy some days. There are days where the short strikes, false follows, and fish that just don’t give a damn about your lure buzzing their noses are enough to make you want to throw your rod into the creek and take up just about anything that’ll make you feel like less of a damn fool.
But fishing for them is intoxicating- we went so far as to buy a boat so we could pursue snakehead, specifically. Until I experienced it, I couldn’t imagine the heart-stopping adrenaline rush of a big fish torpedoing after a lure in a few inches of water. The sound of their strike is unmistakable, violent, like a ton of bricks hitting the water just a few yards away. And the fight isn’t over once you get them in the net- snakehead have the unique ability to wreck all the gear in your boat, including gear you haven’t even thought about buying yet.
As a food fish, snakehead is phenomenal. Mild-flavored and firm, with a delicate sweetness, it lands somewhere on the spectrum between mahi and wahoo. It’s fantastic on the grill, broiled in the oven, or done simply in a pan. For us, it’s an all-purpose, “workhorse” fish- we catch plenty, and it’s endlessly adaptable to a huge variety of dishes. There’s a reason it’s a major food fish in many parts of Asia, and the amount of suspicion that it’s viewed with in the States is a shame. (For those of you who avoid eating it because it has “snake” in the name, I would love to hear your thoughts on hot dogs.)
So when it’s too hot to cook inside, and we’ve spent all day chasing snakes, we like to fire up the grill, throw on a snakehead fillet, and throw together a meal of crisp, cool summer rolls, with aromatic herbs from our garden.
This recipe, like the snakehead, is adaptable. Use as much, or as little, of the various fillings as you’d like. If you don’t have snakehead, you can use any firm white fish, like the mahi or wahoo mentioned above.
Lemongrass Snakehead Summer Rolls
Prep time: 1 hour active
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp sambal chili paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lime
3” lemongrass, chopped fine
1 snakehead fillet, skinned
Rice sticks (vermicelli noodles)
Cucumber (seeded, cut lengthwise)
Sambal chili paste
Combine ingredients for marinade. Allow fillet to marinate for 30 minutes to an hour in the refrigerator. Remove from marinade, season lightly with salt & pepper, and grill until done, approximately 3 minutes per side. Some char really adds depth to the dish.
(Alternately, pan sear the fillet on medium high heat, flip, and then broil for 2-3 minutes per side.)
Allow the fillet to cool enough to handle, then cut into strips that will fit on the rice paper with ~1” to spare on each side. Dunk rice paper in warm water and lay on cutting board or other smooth work surface. Top with herbs, noodles, vegetables. Fold sides over and roll tightly (think rolling a tiny burrito). Serve with hoisin, sambal and crushed nuts or soy sauce with chilis and lime juice.