A Seasonal Look at Seafood Dishes for the Winter Months

Blackened fish street tacos from Bar Louie are summertime on a plate.

Ice cream, ripe garden tomatoes, verdant salads, fresh fish —sounds like summer, right? Wait; reconsider that last one. January is a fine time to explore tasty cold-water swimmers. We’ve always been big into ice fishing here in Minnesota, and the trendy New Nordic food movement has arrived, too—a cuisine rife with pickled, smoked and preserved fish. We bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised: from the sexy raw oyster to warming fish stews and dynamic sushi preparations, the flavors are enlivening, nourishing and exciting. The array of seasonal fish is dazzling, too: rainbow trout, northern pike, walleye, herring, salmon and more. We didn’t encounter the dreaded lutefisk, but rest assured, it’s lurking somewhere. In the meantime, check out these delicious winter fish finds.


Bar Louie
This dish is defiantly summery, which makes it an excellent choice on the darkest, coldest winter’s night when the sunny seashore is but a wistful memory. The street-style tacos start with fresh flour tortillas and are loaded up with blackened codfish, avocado, queso fresco, lettuce, onion, pepper, pico de gallo, salsa verde and guacamole. They’re served with flavorful black beans and a pretty rice pilaf. Bar Louie’s lively atmosphere adds to the fiesta, and that helps melt the ice, too, if only for an evening. $10.


Birch’s on the Lake Brewhouse and Supperclub
We languished hungrily while Birch’s restaurant closed to expand and renovate; our patience has been mightily rewarded with a gorgeous new space and an enticing fresh menu. The Minnesota smoked fish board is a great example of nouveau Scandinavian cooking. It’s served on a charmingly rustic board and features three different preparations, which change according to season and the chef’s whim. A recent board included house-pickled herring, redolent with onions, caraway seeds, coriander seeds and star anise; a creamy smoked trout mousse; and silky, buttery salmon lox. The portions are generous—eight to nine ounces of each fish—and simply served with pickled red onion, corn relish and lavash crackers. $16.


Jimmy’s Food and Cocktails
Everything that emerges from Jimmy’s kitchen is expertly cooked and deftly seasoned. The top of the menu announces what’s in season and includes a featured fish. The fish is as fresh as can be and Jimmy’s treats it with the care and creativity it demands. A perennial favorite is halibut, prepared every which way: wrapped in crispy prosciutto, crusted in roasted garlic breadcrumbs, and, our favorite, a lively soy-wasabi-champagne reduction with a gentle wasabi cream sauce, grilled scallions and wasabi mashed potatoes. $31-$32.


BLVD Kitchen and Bar
Comfort and decadence are both vital pick-me-ups in winter dining; mac and cheese is a classic comfort food. Add lobster, and it’s as decadent as it gets. This dish is a good example of the Scandinavian winter coping strategy called hygge. Hygge roughly means “coziness” and it’s all about friends, family, food and drink. BLVD’s mac is a far cry from the neon-orange stuff we loved as kids—theirs is made with curly cavatappi pasta, chunks of fresh lobster meat, tomato, green onion and a crazy-yummy three-cheese cream. It’s topped with cornbread crumbs and run under the broiler for a bit of crunch. These are huge portions, meant for sharing, which is as hygge as can be. $24.


Rushing Waters Fisheries
Wisconsin boasts a few trout farms; Rushing Waters Fisheries in Palmyra is the largest. The rainbow trout are raised without chemicals, using up-to-the-minute sustainable aquaculture practices. The water is extra-cold, producing a firm, clean-tasting flesh. Rushing Waters also makes excellent smoked fish in northern hardwood-fired ovens. Pick up a smoked fish sampler pack which includes smoked rainbow trout and Cajun, peppered, traditional and lemon-dill smoked salmon online (vacuum-packed and shipped in a cooler), or head to our local Whole Foods to see what’s on hand in the seafood department. If you’re up for a wintry adventure, haul the family to the picturesque 80-acre farm in the Kettle Moraine State Forest where you can fish your own, no fees or license required. Smoked fish sampler pack, $55. Available at Whole Foods.



Cioppino is an American-Italian dish born in 1880s San Francisco, when Italian fishermen settled in the North Beach neighborhood. The rich, aromatic soup is more of a stew; a bowl at Cov runneth over with chunks of North Atlantic lobster, scallops, shrimp, whitefish and mussels. The shells are included in the mix, making for a mini fishing expedition right at the table. The heavenly broth is spiked with roasted fennel and velvety tomato fumet (reduction). It’s especially satisfying with good grilled bread for dipping and soaking. $33.

(Cov’s cioppino includes a melange of different seafoods in a rustic stew.)


Yumi’s Sushi Bar
Sushi cravings hit year-round, even in the winter. Yumi’s Sushi Bar receives fresh daily seafood shipments and has a tantalizing list of creative sushi rolls, each big enough for a dinner unto itself. A winter roll is a popular example, made from a kaleidoscope of salmon, tuna, yellowtail, avocado, spicy mayo and capelin-fish roe, wrapped with crunchy tempura flakes, like the tastiest snowflakes ever. Eight pieces, $18.95.


Lord Fletcher’s Old Lake Lodge

Northern pike, the state fish of North Dakota, is a big, carnivorous lake fish that chomps down our mild-mannered walleye for a mere snack. The long-snouted monster is an exciting one to angle for: aggressive and acrobatic, with a payoff of white, mild-tasting flesh. Lord Fletcher’s excels in fish cookery; piccata is a savvy preparation for this large fish, jazzy with lemon, white wine and salty capers napped in butter. It’s served with beautifully colored fingerling potatoes. $20.


Sushi Fix
This tribute to our Minnesotan culture was inspired by a regular at Sushi Fix, a hopping joint in Wayzata. The roll is filled with cooked fish, not raw—shrimp and snow crab, crunched up with tempura and cemented with cream cheese, then topped with avocado, tempura flakes and sweet unagi sauce. “Even Scandinavians love it!” says the jolly owner, Billy Tserenbat. Sit at the sushi bar for a blast of merriment—an evening here has the power relieve the winter doldrums. $18.


Crossroads Delicatessen
Enjoy a cozy meal at Crossroads Deli with a classic bagel and lox plate. Dubbed the “lox lover’s dream,” it’s a beautiful array of rosy-hued, thinly sliced salmon, sliced onion, tomatoes, capers and cream cheese. You can make a sandwich with all the fixings on one bagel, or mix and match the different ingredients. We especially like lox, onion and capers together. $17.99.


One of the major appeals of eating expertly prepared fish is learning about its provenance—its history and its sense of place. At Bacio, travel to the wild landscape of the highlands with a savory plate of Scottish salmon. As with all of Bacio’s dishes, it’s artistically and tastefully prepared, with Thai barbecue sauce, sesame spinach, lime and crunchy peanuts. As usual with Bacio’s local-and-sustainable philosophy, the details of the dish might vary from season to season. $29.