This is a soup recipe based on sunfish (a common freshwater fish in NJ that is caught easily on minimal tackle) and daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) a non-native and sometimes invasive plant, loved and abandoned by gardeners, that has great use as a food ingredient for foragers and gardeners alike when harvested properly. The flowers have a subtle savory flavor, like asparagus and the roots are like a small potato.
The soup uses a stock made from kitchen vegetable scraps and fish leftovers (heads, leftover bones after fileting) that would otherwise end up in the trash that can be saved up in the freezer in a container and get used once you have enough scraps (this is a great tip for other bones as well, such as chicken or beef).
Recipe adapted from Taste of Home's Panfish Chowder.
- 2-3 cup of fish stock (can substitute with chicken or vegetable stock)
- 1 cup yellow onion, diced
- ½ cup carrots, diced
- ½ cup celery, diced
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 lb of sunfish filets, descaled with skin, chopped chunks
(can sub with any white-fleshed fish)
- ½ tsp dill
- 1 tbsp parsley flakes
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 russet potato, diced
- 1 cup washed whole daylily tubers, if unavailable use 1 potato
- 1 cup daylily buds, chopped, (can omit or sub with chopped spears of asparagus)
- 5 strips of bacon, chopped
- Salt and black pepper to taste
1. Cook bacon in a pot till fat renders and bacon is crisp. Remove and drain bacon but leave enough fat in the bottom of the pot to simmer onion, celery, and carrots.
2. After the vegetables are softened, add the stock, daylily tubers, lemon juice, potatoes, herbs, and spices. Gently simmer for 40-50 mins, then add fish and daylily buds and cook another 10 mins and take off heat.
3. Add bacon and cream before serving (boil bacon with fish if you want a smokier soup).
Prepared from trimmings & peels saved in freezer
- 5-6 assorted fish heads and bodies, gills and guts removed (trout, sunfish, bass will all work)
- Onion, carrot, and celery scraps (about 2 cups loosely packed)
- Parsley flakes (or use parsley stems if you’ve saved them)
- 3 cloves garlic, roughly diced
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ tsp black peppercorns
1. Put all ingredients in a saucepan with 4 cups of water and simmer for 1 hour, strain thru a sieve and use immediately of freeze for future use.
Consult an expert 1st before doing any foraging, some lilies and plants that look like them are very toxic. Find a patch of orange daylilies on property that you have permission to pick from and in areas away from spraying and contamination (plants growing around house foundations or in roadsides may not be as safe as ones growing in an old farm field or mid-yard garden). Dig roots up by taking a shovel, digging fork, or trowel and lifting the top 10-12” layer of soil under the leaf bundle to excavate roots. Wash roots off with a garden hose over a basket or colander to remove dirt and cut tubers from the bunch (trim off roots connected to tuber, they are tough). A vegetable brush is helpful for this.
For buds, around June-July in NJ, pick 4” buds that haven’t opened yet and snap off from the flower stalk. In the kitchen gently rinse them and trim off green ends before chopping and adding to pot. Learn more about daylilies here, here, and here.
These are easily obtained from NJ fresh waters spring through fall. They can easily be caught by baits, lures and fly from any body of water that allows for taking home of fish (some areas are only catch and release, consult local laws and rules before fishing a spot). Fish from clean, moving water bodies that aren’t using pesticides or chemicals and keep fish cold and clean before scaling and fileting. Typically 4-6 mature sunfish (8-9” long) will yield about ~1lb of filets, all depending on the species and the person fileting the fish. Skin can be removed from filets if wanted, but the skin has some additional flavor and helps hold the fish chunks together in soup.
Take care when handling sunfish, despite their small size their fins hide sharp spines that can give you a nasty surprise if you don’t handle them carefully when catching and processing the fish. Also avoid fishing above their crater-like gravel nests in June-July, these fish are guarding eggs and those eggs and the small fish they hatch into form the foundation of the food chain for larger fish in the pond as well as birds like herons, mergansers and kingfishers. Learn more about sunfish here.