Lured to the table

Fishing for cooking compliments? Look to Michigan’s lakes.
grilling fish
Whether you catch them yourself or purchase them at a specialty market, fish suitable for grilling are plentiful in Michigan.
Photo courtesy of Todd Marsee, Michigan Sea Grant

The birds are chirping excitedly as dawn breaks, and we may even wake up with a bright tune in our head or on our lips (Here Comes the Sun? It’s a Beautiful Morning?). And although many of us have enjoyed being outdoors in the winter months — hiking, skiing, ice skating, snowmobiling — there’s nothing quite like the coming of spring, with its longer (and warmer) days, and more opportunities to absorb some natural and much-needed vitamin D.

Stories about the importance of maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D are prevalent in the media. The Mayo Clinic has published information stating that, in addition to promoting healthy bones (because it’s needed for the absorption of calcium), vitamin D also regulates many other cellular functions and has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that support muscle function, brain cell activity, and immune health. The Mayo Clinic shares that our bodies make vitamin D “when direct sunlight converts a chemical in your skin into an active form of the vitamin (calciferol)” and reports that it’s also present in some foods, including fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, and trout.

With lakes surrounding us, Michiganders are extremely fortunate not only to have close access to fresh and flash-frozen fish (both high, also, in health-enhancing omega-3 fatty acids), but to the lakes where we can fish for ourselves. In the spring, Lake Michigan yields brown trout, lake trout, yellow perch, walleye, and Coho salmon. In Muskegon Lake — and in the Detroit River — it’s possible to catch 6- to 8-pound walleyes. Spring trout are plentiful in the Fox and Au Sable rivers, and smallmouth bass can be caught in Lake St. Clair. Whether you catch them yourself, buy them at one of our state’s many specialty fish markets, or even crave tuna (technically not a freshwater fish), you’ll be treating your family and guests to great flavor and giving them a health boost when you serve fish.

Todd Marsee, a graphic designer who works with Michigan Sea Grant (a cooperative program of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that funds research, education, and outreach projects to support science-based decisions regarding the use and conservation of our state’s great lakes), shares recipes and photos on the organization’s “Freshwater Feasts” blog (

“I enjoy making fish recipes for my family,” Marsee says, “and they’re a little different every time, depending on what’s available in the refrigerator or garden. I recently whipped up tasty grilled walleye sandwiches with slaw and sage.

“When trying a new recipe with Great Lakes fish, it’s hard to go wrong with walleye. These native fish are a member of the perch family and thrive in warmer, shallower waters like Saginaw Bay and Lake Erie,” he continues. “Whether you catch your own or buy from a local fish market, walleye fillets are a great fit for this flavorful sandwich.”

walleye sandwich and chips
What’s better than a walleye sandwich with a side of potato chips?
Photo courtesy of Todd Marsee, Michigan Sea Grant



Walleye fillets: usually one fillet per two sandwiches, depending on their size; if desired, additional fillets can be grilled for another meal, like fish tacos

Brioche or pretzel buns: one per sandwich; if buns aren’t available, feel free to use toasted sourdough or another type of large sandwich bread

Grilling seasonings of choice: possibly including butter, sea salt, garlic powder, and freshly chopped herbs (sage is used here)

Coleslaw: purchased or homemade (see recipe in this article)

Tartar sauce: purchased or homemade (see recipe in this article)


While the grill is heating to a hot temperature, remove as many bones as possible from the fish. Marsee advises looking closely at the shoulder area, which is the thicker side of the fillet.

Put the fillet on the hot grill, meat-side down, and cook for one minute. Flip over, so the skin side is on the grill. Season and cook until done, about 7-9 minutes, depending on thickness.

Spread tartar sauce on the top bun, put the grilled walleye on the bottom bun, and top the walleye with a layer of slaw.

Let’s Eat!

While these scrumptious sandwiches offer the creaminess of tartar sauce, the bite of a tart coleslaw, and the heartiness of a fresh roll, the gluten-free grilled fillets can also be enjoyed on their own, with homemade coleslaw. 

Tips for Success

“When I make these sandwiches, I season the fillets after flipping them from meat- to skin-side down. I butter all the fish, then sprinkle to taste with sea salt, garlic powder, and freshly chopped sage from my garden,” Marsee says.

Honey and Dijon mustard are the two go-to ingredients for coleslaw success.
Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock



Shredded carrots, green cabbage, and red cabbage to fill about 3 cups

3 tablespoons honey

1½ tablespoons Dijon mustard (most Dijon mustards are free of gluten, though some may be made in factories that manufacture other products with gluten)


Combine all ingredients. 

Let’s Eat!

“I chose a slaw recipe without mayonnaise,” Marsee says, “since the tartar sauce will add its own creamy texture to the sandwich. But feel free to substitute with your favorite slaw.”

Tip for Success

Stir very well and adjust the measurements to taste.

tuna salad
Dill weed is optional but highly recommended for a good tuna salad. Fresh onion is a nice touch, too.
Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock


If you’d like to offer a lunch option of fish to your family and guests without grilling or cooking, a simple tuna salad sandwich is a wholesome comfort food that people can serve themselves at any time. Makes 8-10 sandwiches or salad scoops.


Two 11-ounce pouches of light tuna in water

½ cup mayonnaise (optional add-ins for added slightly tangy flavor: 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and 1 tablespoon maple syrup)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 large rib of celery, chopped

1½ tablespoons onion powder or 2 tablespoons minced, fresh onion

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

Optional: 1 tablespoon dried dill weed


In a medium bowl, add the lemon juice to the tuna, mixing with a fork. Sprinkle in the onion, black pepper, and dill weed (if using). Mix with fork. Add mayonnaise gradually, mixing gently with a spoon to the desired consistency. Fold in the celery.

Let’s Eat!

This tuna salad is nutritious and convenient, and lasts in the fridge for four days. It’s gluten-free and delicious scooped on a bed of lettuce greens instead of as a sandwich.

Tip for Success

Add mayonnaise gradually, to obtain the desired consistency.

tartar sauce
It’s the finely chopped dill pickles that make this tartar sauce so good.
Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock



1 cup mayonnaise 

2 tablespoons finely chopped dill pickles

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon granulated onion or 1 tablespoon minced fresh onion

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon coarse black pepper

Dash of Worcestershire sauce (optional)

½ teaspoon dried dill or parsley (optional)

Light drizzle of maple syrup (optional)


Combine all ingredients and stir gently. For best results, chill for at least an hour.

Tips for Success

Feel free to substitute half of the mayonnaise with plain Greek yogurt (at least 4 percent fat) to greatly reduce the sauce’s fat content. Also, when combining the ingredients, fold gently to avoid breaking down the mayo mix. 

fillet knife
Be sure to use a clean fillet knife while preparing your fresh-caught fish.
Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock

Fishing for more info?

There are many great websites offering information on fishing for, purchasing, preparing, and eating Michigan fish:

Recipes for Tartar Sauce and Tuna Salad by Honey Murray. Recipes for Grilled Walleye Sandwich with Slaw and Sage via by Todd Marsee.

Facebook Comments