We’ll call it bream dip for simplicity’s sake, but it’s a fun food item that can enliven most any party or just an evening of watching a ball game on television.
Ball game? This goes well with tailgating, too.
Bream are everywhere in Arkansas, and many fishing outings wind up with a bunch of small but tasty fish on a stringer. It is no secret that some careful work with a filleting knife will result in a quantity of little boneless pieces of fish ready for cooking or ready for freezing to be joined by a future quantity.
Bream fillets are small. Conventional preparation by coating in seasoned corn meal then frying does not always work well. The little fillets tend to overcook before they are brown.
One alternative is to make a dip.
This includes cooking the bream fillets by smoking, steaming, poaching or boiling in a bag. None of these methods takes long because – again – the fillets are small.
All right, you have about a half-pound of cooked bream fillets. What follows is a general recipe that can have a jillion alternatives or personal touches. The variations can be fun, but keep in mind that whatever you put into the mix should not overpower the delicate taste of the fish.
You’ve got the half-pound of cooked bream. Flake it with a fork or with a sharp knife. Set aside.
Mix an 8-ounce package of softened cream cheese, two tablespoons of chili sauce or cocktail sauce, a tablespoon of sour cream, a teaspoon of lemon juice and two tablespoons of chopped green onions.
Stir in a teaspoon of seasoning — this can be Cavender’s, Tony Chachere’s, dry Italian seasoning, dry ranch dressing or an all-purpose mix that you use for grilling and other recipes.
Stir in a teaspoon of prepared or grated horseradish and one-fourth teaspoon of minced garlic.
Mix well, then add the flaked cooked bream and mix well again.
Serve any way you choose — with crackers, dipping chips, toast points. Use it as hors d’ouevres. It can be spooned over lettuce or fresh baby spinach and used as a main dish salad for a light lunch or supper.
The variations are infinite. Substitutions are in order, meaning to use what is available without a special trip to a grocery. A splash of lemon juice is an optional addition. No chili sauce or cocktail sauce? Use ketchup and some chili powder. No chili powder? Use red, cayenne, pepper. No sour cream? Use cottage cheese or ricotta cheese.
The cream cheese that is the foundation of bream dip can be Neufchatel cheese, a common substitute that is available in most supermarkets. Neufchatel cheese is a tad lower in calories than regular cream cheese, and the taste is similar.
Back to a basic — cooking those bream fillets.
If you have a smoker or a patio grill with a cover, the bream fillets can go into a wire basket for an hour or so over low heat. The smoky flavor in the dip is preferred by many people.
Poaching means dropping the fillets gently into simmering water for just a few minutes then dipping out with a slotted spoon. The fish will turn opaque. Check with a fork for the familiar "flakes easily with a fork" doneness.
Steam in a basket or rack just above boiling water for a few minutes and check with a fork.
Put the fillets in a zip-type bag and drop in gently boiling water for a few minutes.
Try some bream dip. You’ll want to put your individual touch to it.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.