The Best Crappie Recipes | Field & Stream

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The crappie fishing connection within our family runs deep—going back decades to when my dad would tell us stories about his fishing trips to Canada, where they feasted on slabs night after night. Then, before I moved from Minnesota to Kansas, my dad, brother, and I followed through on the dream fishing trip for all of us, motored out one morning in the cold blue dark, over an hour from camp, to a remote spot where crappie bit fierce and fast on anything.

Two fishermen in navy blue shirts stand behind a table of dead crappies.
The author’s father and brother pose with a cutting board full of slabs during a Canada fishing in July 2016. Jack Hennessy

My dad still raves about the fish fry we had that night. We never thought we’d be able to recreate that thrill and flavor on my local waters in Kansas, but we have been able to do so at a very remote pond not far from my house. It’s the same pond where I also caught a 17-inch weight nearly 3 pounds. I’ve taken my oldest daughter, and I am trying to instill both a love of fishing and eating our catch.

Crappie, in my opinion, is the best-tasting freshwater fish, at least in my mainly Midwestern fishing experience. Below are some general tips for amazing flavor, along with four very simple, very delicious crappie recipes.

General Tips for Crappie Recipes

1) Kill them before they expire.

I learned this from a crappie-cooking pro while in Canada. If crappie, same as many fish, die before bled, there is a strong change that blood gets trapped in meat. For fish like crappie, it isn’t a major deal, but cutting their throats and then placing on ice before they turn belly-up will result in a cleaner flavor, and a cleaner looking fish with filleted.

A half-filleted crappie on a cutting board.
A fish that has had its throat cut and bled then put on ice will produce cleaner-looking and -tasting fillets. Jack Hennessy

2) Scale before filleting if you plan to cook with skin on.

Crispy, salty, buttery skin can be a treat, but you’ll want to take a spoon to the fish and remove the scales by gently going against the grain with the spoon. Doing this before filleting the fish is a little easier, and there is a less of a risk for damaging meat.

3) Do NOT soak in Sprite or other highly acidic marinade ahead of cooking.

Years ago a friend sent me a recipe for crappie from a tournament angler and replied with a tirade containing all the reasons such a concept what a TERRIBLE idea. The whole idea of denaturing the delicate flesh of crappie hurts my soul. And Sprite is gross, in general. A good eating experience should have both flavor and texture, sometimes referred to as “mouthfeel.” Avoid any recipe or method that risks turning your crappie meat to mush.

A yellow cooler filled with dead crappie.
Got crappie? We’ve got recipes below. Jack Hennessy

Our Favorite Crappie Recipes

1) The Best Fried Crappie Recipe

A basket of fried catfish with slaw and lemon wedges
Fried crappie—a basket of gold. Jack Hennessy

Ingredients for Fried Crappie

  • Crappie fillets, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
  • Almond milk or buttermilk
  • 1 Cup flour
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup of your favorite spice mix
  • Sunflower, peanut, or canola oil for frying

Directions on How to Make Fried Crappie

  1. Fillet the crappie around rib bones and cut the fillets in half. Trim out any spine. Soak the crappie meat in almond or buttermilk for at least 3 hours or overnight. (Ideally not much longer than 24 hours.)
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, cornmeal, cornstarch, and your favorite spice mix (I’m a fan of Fire & Smoke Society’s “The Usual” for a lot of dishes, including venison and other wild game.)
  3. To fry, heat the oil to 400 degrees F. (Don’t let oil temp drop below 375 degrees F.)
  4. Add the crappie fillets directly from the almond milk or buttermilk directly into the seasoned-flour mix. Cover the fillets with the mix, shake off any access flour, and add to hot oil.
  5. Continue to ensure the oil stays between 375 and 400 F. When the crappie is golden crispy, remove and set on a rack so that the grease can drain. Let cool a minute or two, then enjoy.

2) Seared Crappie with Butter and Capers

Seared crappie fillets in a cast iron skillet with lemon and capers
Proof that delicious crappie doesn’t always have to be deep-fried. Jack Hennessy

Ingredients for Sear Crappie

  • Whole crappie fillets
  • Non-Pareil capers, drained
  • Favorite spice mix, or just kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • Lemon slices
  • Salted butter
  • Olive oil

Directions for Pan-Seared Crappie Recipe

  1. For this recipe, you can either keep the skin on, or remove it. (Remember to scale if you keep the skin on.) Lightly season the fish 2-3 hours prior to cooking and leave uncovered in fridge so the meat can dry. (Dry meat leads to a better sear.)
  2. Heat a cast-iron skillet (or similar skillet) to 325 degrees F. Add a bit of salted butter and a few drippings of olive oil—enough to form a very thin layer in the skillet. Sear the fish flesh-side down first, then flip once the underside is golden-brown (likely 3-5 minutes). Add a bit more butter overtop along with the capers. Squeeze a bit of fresh lemon overtop. Sear for another 3-5 minutes, then serve.

3) Air Fried Crappie Recipe

Crappie fillets frying in an air fryer
Using an air-fryer is a healthier—but still delicious—alternative to frying in oil. Jack Hennessy

Ingredients for Air Fried Crappie

  • Crappie, either skin-on or off, quartered
  • Favorite spice mix
  • Cooking spray
  • Salted butter
  • Fresh lemon slices

Directions for This Air Fried Crappie Recipe

  1. For this recipe, you can either keep the skin on, or remove it. (Remember to scale if you keep the skin on.) Lightly season the fish 2-3 hours prior to cooking and leave uncovered in fridge so the meat can dry. (Dry meat leads to a better sear.)
  2. When ready to cook, set up the air fryer to “air fry” setting, which should be 400 degrees F. Spray the tray with cooking oil and space out the crappie fillets on the tray. When the air fryer is ready, add the crappie. Flip after 3-5 minutes, when the topsides of the fish are firm. Air-fry for another 3-5 minutes, until fully cooked. Remove and add a bit of butter and freshly squeezed lemon.

4) Panfish Pasta: Crappie Primavera

A bowl of crappie pasta primavera on a table
A bowl of crappie pasta primavera is the perfect spring meal. Jack Hennessy

Ingredients for Crappie Pasta Primavera

  • Crappie fillets, skinned and quartered
  • 16 ounces of farfalle or penne pasta, cooked al dente
  • Favorite crappie seasoning
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • Fresh sugar snap peas
  • Fresh asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Yellow zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
  • Fresh kale, stems removed
  • Cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Fresh basil, cut into thin strips
  • Olive oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tsp. freshly minced garlic
  • Juice from 1/4 lemon
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 sticks salted butter
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper

Crappie Recipe Directions: How to Make Crappie Primavera

  1. Add olive oil to a large skillet, and set over medium heat. Add the red onion slices and lightly salt and pepper. Stir until slightly brown, then add the sugar snap peas and asparagus. Once the sugar snap peas and asparagus are seared, add a bit more olive oil along with the sliced zucchini and a dusting of salt and pepper. After a couple minutes, stir in the kale and add the tomatoes.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil and boil the pasta until al dente, then drain water in colander and set aside.
  3. Make the sauce: Using a medium saucepan, add the white wine, freshly minced garlic, freshly squeezed lemon juice, kosher salt, black pepper, and turn the burner heat to medium. Once the white wine has reduced to half the original amount, add the heavy whipping cream and continue to stir as it reduces. Once the liquid is thick and approximately one-third the original amount, turn off the burner off and a few pats of butter at a time. Leave heat off as the butter melts.
  4. Prepare the crappie using any of the cooking methods described above.
  5. To serve, add the pasta and vegetables to a bowl, and top with crappie and the sauce. Add fresh basil as garnish.

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