In short, yes, crappie are delicious. But you’ll want to make sure you handle them properly to be safe and have the best tasting crappie you can get.
If you’re in the U.S. then you’re in luck. Crappie are found throughout the freshwater lakes here.
There are two main species of crappie, white and black crappie.
They’re both enjoyed as part of fish frys all across the country. There were commercial fisheries for crappie in the past, but today there is no widespread commercial market for crappie sale. However, they’re pretty easy to catch if you can find them.
Crappie are very sought after by anglers. So, if you’re going fishing for them yourself, you may have friends with a boat who can help you out.
Crappie Distribution And Habitat
Crappie are native to North America. Their native range goes down the eastern seaboard and then turns southwest along the gulf. But they’ve been transplanted across most of the country.
Crappie mainly live in lakes and rivers. They can normally be found near cover. They like to be near cover because it provides them with protection and a place to ambush prey from.
Crappie will feed on a great variety of food. They survive mainly on smaller fish. But they can eat just about anything you’ll find in a lake. This can range from small insects to underwater reptiles.
Crappie are more likely to feed early in the morning or late in the day, near dusk. This helps crappie remain camouflaged in low light and gives them a good chance to succeed when targeting prey. Hunting at dawn and dusk also helps crappie avoid times of high human activity.
What Does Crappie Taste Like?
Crappies are a popular eating fish. But what do they taste like?
Well, if you’ve eaten other freshwater fish, then crappie compares well.
Some say that it tastes similar to bluegill. Crappie has a softer texture and a milder flavor. For me, the taste is mostly affected by the water that the fish came from.
For the most part, crappie have a very mild flavor. There is also very little red meat on them.
If a fish has significant amounts of red meat, you may want to cut that off. The red parts of fish flesh have a very strong fishy flavor. But crappie rarely have these red meat parts and this makes them easier to clean.
I prefer crappie from clean, colder water. This will reduce the likelihood that the meat will be too soft and mushy.
Fish from water that is warm and muddy could develop a softer texture.
If you deep fry your crappie with batter, it will help to keep pieces together preventing any falling apart.
Crappie is a great fish for people who don’t like fishy flavor. The white meat on crappie usually has no fishy flavor at all. To keep it this way make sure you keep your crappie alive or on ice to help preserve the freshness of the fish.
Crappie usually run in schools. That means that when you catch one, you should be able to catch more. This is good because to get a good meal for a few people, you’re going to need a mess of crappie.
A great way to prepare crappie is to fillet them. Crappie fillets can be cooked whole or chunked for frying.
Filleting crappie is very similar to filleting most other panfish. So, once you learn this, you’ll be able to apply it to other species..
Before you start, I recommend that you have a sharp fillet knife and a good cutting board on hand. If you’re going to store the fillet for a while, I recommend that you freeze them right away.
Filleting A Crappie
Before you filet a crappie, I recommend you gut it first. To gut the fish:
1. Insert the knife in between the pectoral fins. These are the fins just above the belly near the throat area.
2. Run the knife down to the vent.
3. Open the body cavity and remove the guts.
4. Discard the guts or save them for chum.
You can also remove the gills if you plan on cooking the fish whole instead of filleting it.
Here we will continue with the filleting process.
1. With the knife blade just behind the fish’s head, make a cut behind the gill plate. Cut down through the meat until you hit the spine.
2. Turn the knife 90 degrees so that it’s parallel to the cutting board. The blade of the knife should be pointing towards the tail.
3. Cut along the spine towards the tail. Be sure to push the knife down so that the point gets down to the open belly part.
4. As you cut, try to keep as much meat as possible on the fillet side of the cut.
5. Right before you get to the tail, stop. Don’t cut through the tail section. Flip the fillet over so that the meat side is facing up.
6. For a regular fillet, you now have to cut the skin and scales off. Leave the crappie fillet attached to the tail and flip it meat side up.
7. Starting at the crappie tail, place the knife between the meat and the skin and start sliding it towards the other end. As you do this you can slowly move the knife towards you. As you look at the top of your knife hand, it will be pulling towards as you move the blade across the fillet.
(Some tips: With the knife parallel to the cutting board, the goal is to slide the blade between the meat and the skin. This can be the trickiest part. You may get a better result if you slightly bend the blade as you cut through the fillet.)
8. Continue cutting across the fillet until you cut the whole fillet off the skin.
You now have a crappie fillet! You may want to now inspect the fillet for any leftover bones. To remove any remaining bones, you can use some tweezers. Just pinch the ends of the bones with the tweezers and pull them out. There is no guarantee that this will work perfectly, but it will usually do the job.
Also, you can wash the fillet with some water to get any excess scales or residue off.
If you’re going to fry the fish, you can also cut it up into chunks. This is a matter of preference. For pan frying, you can just fry the fillet whole.
Crappie is probably best pan fried or deep fried. Crappie can be a bit bland, so deep frying can really help add flavor to the recipe. You can also bake or grill a crappie fillet.
If you decide to bake your crappie take care not to overcook it. A delicate fish like crappie can be easily overcooked. If this happens the meat can become dry. You may want to add a sauce to help moisten it up.
For grilling, I recommend a fish basket that can help hold your fillets together while you grill it.
Fried Crappie Fillets Recipe
This is a pretty easy recipe for frying crappie fillets that you can apply to other fish as well. This recipe assumes you have about a pound of crappie fillets.
First, you need to get your breading ingredients together. You can customize this by adding spices that you like or by taking some of my suggestions out.
Here is the basic breading ingredient list:
- 3/4 cups of flour
- 1/2 Tsp Salt
- 1/2 Tsp Black Pepper
Mix the breading thoroughly in a ziplock bag. Make sure the bag is big enough to hold the fillets.
You’ll need a skillet and some oil. Using oil with a higher smoke point will provide better results. Once an oil reaches its smoke point, it can quickly turn acidic. Try peanut oil or another nut oil. You can also use butter but beware that butter has a lower smoke point that most nut oils.
Coat the pan with about a 16th of an inch of oil. You don’t want to cover the fillet with oil. If the fillet absorbs too much oil, it won’t turn out good.
Make sure you heat the oil thoroughly. You want the oil to be thin like water. Putting the fillets in oil that isn’t hot enough could lead to a mess.
When you’re ready, put the fillets in the bag with the breading. Shake the bag until the fillets have a nice coating on both sides. Once done, they can go into the skillet.
Watch out for any popping oil. It may help to have a screen lid to place over the skillet.
Cook one side of the fillet for about 2 to 4 minutes.
Flip the fillet gently and cook the other side. A fillet of about a half an inch thickness should take between 8 and 10 minutes to cook. The amount of time depends on how thick the fillet is.
Have a plate lined with paper towels ready for when you are done cooking the fillets. Place the fillets on the paper towels to drain some of the oil.
You can serve your fried crappie with just about any side that goes well with fish fry. I like fried crappie with french fries. But a healthier option is to serve it with vegetables. Try asparagus or squash. You can also have it with some wild rice. This will add some carbs and some color to your meal.
Crappie is a favorite when it comes to fish for the table. You can prepare it in many different ways. It’s mild flavor will please even finicky eaters.
So get out there and get yourself some crappie and enjoy your meal.