FISH of the same species vary a great deal in quality according to the water in which they are caught. A black bass taken from one of the overflow lakes of the Mississippi bears no comparison with its brother from a swift, clear, spring-fed Ozark river.
When it is necessary to eat fish caught in muddy streams, rub a little salt down the backbone, lay them in strong brine for a couple of hours before cooking, and serve with one of the sauces described farther on in this chapter. Carp should have the gills removed, as they are always muddy from burrowing.
Never put fish on a stringer to keep in water till you start for home. It is slow death for them, like putting a cord through an animal's lung and letting him half smother, half bleed to death. If you have no live-box or net, kill and bleed every fish as soon as caught. The flesh will be much firmer and more palatable.
(See also page 50.) Small fish should be fried whole, with the backbone severed to prevent curling up; large fish should be cut into pieces, and ribs cut loose from backbone, so as to lie flat in pan. Rub the pieces in corn meal, or powdered crumbs, thinly and evenly (that browns them). Fry in plenty of very hot grease to a golden brown, sprinkling lightly with pepper and salt just as the color turns. If the fish is not naturally" full-flavored, a few drops of lemon juice will improve it.
Olive oil is best to fry fish in; the next choice is clear drippings or butter. If the fish has not been wiped dry it will absorb too much grease. If the frying fat is not very hot when fish are put in they will be soggy with it.
(See also page 52.) If a broiling iron is used, first rub it with fat bacon to prevent fish from sticking to it. In broiling large fish, remove the head, split down the back instead of the belly, and lay on the broiler with strips of bacon or pork laid across. Broil over a rather moderate bed of coals so that the inside will cook done. Small fish are best broiled quickly over ardent coals. They need not have heads removed.
When done, sprinkle with salt and pepper, spread with butter (unless you have used bacon), and hold again over fire until butter melts.
Small fish may be skewered on a thin, straight, greenwood stick, sharpened at the end, with a thin slice of bacon or pork between every two fish, the stick being constantly turned over the coals like a spit, so that juices may not be lost.
Another way is to cut some green hardwood sticks, about three feet long, forked at one end, and sharpen the tines. Lay a thin slice of pork inside each fish lengthwise, drive tines through fish and pork, letting them through between ribs near backbone and on opposite sides of the latter—then the fish won't drop off as soon as it begins to soften and curl from the heat. Place a log lengthwise of edge of coals, lay broil' ing sticks on this support, slanting upward over the fire, and lay a small log over their butts. Large fish should be planked.