Walleye Culinary Profile
Walleye is a very lean freshwater fish with a fine-flaked but firm texture, a subtle, mildly sweet flavor, and relatively few bones. It is widely regarded as the best-tasting freshwater fish. The raw flesh is an off-white or beige color but becomes white after cooking.
When checking for the quality of Walleye, be sure that the skin is firm and shiny (not dull) and that its flesh is moist without much of a fishy odor. Do not use the eyes for checking quality (as you would for most fish). The eyes naturally have an opaque, flat appearance even when freshly caught.
Typical Cooking Methods
Be careful not to overcook this fish because it becomes rubbery and unpleasant when overcooked. Since the taste is mild, do not use overpowering sauces or preparations as they will overshadow the delicate flavor of this fish.
Walleye Pike, Yellow Pike, Yellow Walleye, Pike, Dory, Freshwater Perch, Pickerel, Pike-Perch, Yellow Pickerel, Marble Eye
Typical Wholesale Products
Although they are found in Canadian and US waters, the only commercially available Walleye for restaurants are from the US Great Lakes region, Minnesota, and Canada due to over-fishing concerns in the rest of the US.
Fresh: Whole (round), H&G, Fillets (skinless/skin-on)
Frozen: IQF fillets, IQF fingers
Currently (2021) aquaculture Walleye are only raised for stocking lakes for sport fishermen. But interest in Walleye for restaurant menus is increasing and research for aquaculture commercial production is being done. Unfortunately, the species is difficult to farm due to high feed & production costs and high mortality rates.
Description (Sander vitreus)
Walleye is the largest member of the perch family found in the lakes and rivers of the United States and Canada. They are named for their highly reflective cat-like eyes, which help them see better in low-light conditions such as deep water and turbid or rough water.
The common size is around 22 – 30 inches (54 – 75 cm) with the largest recorded fish being 42 inches (107 cm). They reach a weight of 15 pounds, but average market weight is 1 – 5 pounds. The largest recorded weight was 25 pounds (11.3 kg). And the oldest reported Walleye is 29 years, but most Walleye which are caught only reach an age of 5 or 6 years. Females generally are larger than males.
Identification: Walleye are mostly olive green and gold in color set in an alternating vertical pattern on its sides, and shading to white on the belly. The dorsal fin is olive-colored, grading to a golden color on the sides. The mouth is wide with many sharp teeth. And its eyes are opaque and cat-like. The first dorsal fin and anal fins are spiny.
Diet: Walleye live on a diet of minnows, crayfish, insects, snails, frogs, small mammals, waterbirds, and their eggs.
Restaurant Walleye Availability
Fresh Walleye are most available in the spring and fall, peaking around May and October. In the summer months, they move to deeper, cooler waters and are hard to source. Since commercially sourced Walleye are only obtainable from the Great Lakes region, Minnesota and Canada, in the winter months, fresh Walleye are only commercially available via ice fishing and therefore are virtually unavailable until spring. Frozen fillets are generally available year-round.
The majority of Walleye caught for restaurants come from Lake Winnipeg, Lake Erie, Lake of the Woods, and other Canadian lakes. Fish Choice has a listing of companies that source Walleye commercially.
Walleye Butchering Yield %
|Item||To Skin/On Fillets||To Skin/Off Fillets||Notes|
|Skin/On Fillets||—||—||If you have additional yield info on this fish please leave a comment below.|
|Yield % varies according to a number of factors including: size of fish, season, sex, and the skill of your fishmonger.|
Range & Habitat
In Canada, Walleye are found in the Arctic regions south to the Great Lakes and from Quebec to the Northwest Territories. In the United States, Walleye are found from the Great Lakes region southward to Alabama, Arkansas and the Mississippi River basin. They have also been introduced into areas outside of their native range within the United States, including the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean drainage basins and the Gulf of Mexico.
Walleye is the second most popular freshwater sport-fish in North America, with Bass being the most popular.
As a generalized rating, Walleye have an “Elevated” concern for mercury, meaning that only 2 portions per month are recommended for adults and 1 for children. A study from the upper Columbia River region in WA state found that mercury concentrations in Walleye fillets ranged from 0.11 to 0.44 parts per million (ppm). These concentrations do not exceed the current Federal standard (1.0 ppm of mercury) designed to protect the health of people who eat small amounts of fish.
The actual mercury content depends upon the lake or river they were caught from, their diet, and their size. Generally speaking, smaller fish have less mercury than larger fish simply due to build-up over a longer life span. For more detailed info about how Mercury enters a fishes system and how the size of the fish matters check out this article by seafood.edf.org
based upon a 6 oz (171 grams) raw edible serving.