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Greetings from Alaska!
Camping is a way of life here, and living off the bounty of the land is an integral aspect of an Alaskan lifestyle for many of its residents and visitors. This tale of adventure is the latest of many my family takes every year, and I hope that you enjoy it as much as the simple recipe I've included for grilling fish over an open flame.
Our little caravan pulls out of the driveway a day late and a buck short, but rich in enthusiasm! The Love Shack -- our van -- is packed with enough stuff to outfit an army, 2 adults (myself and Jesse) and a 125 pound bull doggie! My daughter Jasmine's car, Buttercup, comes equipped with 3 adults -- Jasmine, Joey (her boyfriend), and his cousin Tyrell -- 2 more dogs and a puppy! Boy is this fun! 250 miles and 8 hours through steady rain later we arrive at Tangle Lakes, located above the tree line, nestled in a mountain terrain, on the Denali Highway ...at 4 in the morning. It's 40 degrees and the wind is howling. I quickly cut some chicken and veggies into a pot of water with seasonings on the cook stove while the gang sets up tents. We eat the soup and fall into our sleeping bags.
Wonder of wonders, I wake in an oven called the van. The sun is shining and the sky is blue and it's almost 60 degrees outside! The men prepare the boat for the unending quest for fish we always seem to be on in the summer time, and Jasmine and I take the kennel club for a walk and pick blueberries on the slope above the camp. The men return at midnight empty-handed and very cold from the ceaseless wind. Oh well, I guess we will have to settle for the fillet mignon and baked potatoes I brought, just in case, for our supper. The trick to campfire baked potatoes is thick skinned spuds, like Idaho baking potatoes, poked several times with a fork and quadruple wrapped in heavy duty tin foil. I set them on the edge of a good coal bed for 1-1 1/2 hours, turning once.
The next morning, Jesse rolls out of the sack and promptly sets off a fishing frenzy within the group by catching 3 grayling in as many minutes in the creek beside our camp! I caught one too, and so did Ty -- his first successful catch in Alaska! Jasmine's wasn't big enough to call a fish, and Joey's got away...but the good news is we are having grayling for dinner!
Grilled Grayling with Alaskan Grown Zucchini and Applesauce with Fresh Blueberries
4-6 medium sized grayling (8-12" or similar fresh water fish with white flesh...trout, bass, etc.)
1/4 lb. butter
Small bunch fresh dill
Squeeze margarine for pans
1 small Alaskan-grown zucchini, or 3 regular zucchini
3 ounces enoki mushrooms, or similar white, sweet-fleshed fungi
1 lb. apple sauce
2 cups fresh blueberries
Build up a bed of coals, and have a few small chunks of additional wood ready to regulate temperature. Prepare the top half of a large oblong metal broiling pan by covering it top and bottom (to prevent blackening and easy cleanup) with heavy duty tin foil.
For each fish, squeeze a line of margarine on the pan where you plan to place the fish. After cleaning fish (we save the heads for trout bait), with the fillet knife, make a slice along the top of the fish, beside dorsal fin, from head to tail. Stuff with 1/2 pat butter, a few stalks of dill, and a wedge of orange.
Lay the fish on the pan with the sliced side of the dorsal fin down. Place pan over open flame, no higher than gently licking the pan, add 1 stick of wood as needed to maintain this. To flip the fish after 15 minutes or so, use a long cake icing spatula to gently lift the fish away from the skin whole, along the dorsal slice, flip into same place on top of the peeled away skin stuck to the pan.
Prepare a large frying pan with margarine, heat and slice zucchini into pan, fry until semi soft and slightly brown, add mushrooms and season lightly with garlic salt. Remove from the heat.
Check the fish for doneness by flaking a small amount off of the biggest fish up at the head end. It should be flaky WITHOUT a jellied texture. Take the spatula and lift the fish whole off of the skin, place on one edge of plate, use the spatula to lift the top fillet off the bone by sliding along the dorsal bone and flip over so the 2 halves are side by side on the plate. With a fork, remove the back bone, whole with stuffing and discard. Garnish with a sprig of dill and a lemon wedge. Salt to taste. Add a serving of zucchini and mushrooms. Stir the applesauce and blueberries into a medium bowl. Serve in small cups on the side.
Yields: 4-6 servings
Preparation Time: 1 hour or longer if you don't know how to clean fish!
The trout were very wiley and eluded us the next day also, but we consoled ourselves with more grayling for the freezer! It was our last night and we argued the crucial culinary merits of golden brown versus char-broiled marshmallows as we sat around the campfire. Suddenly the dogs set off an unholy din and we all scrambled to investigate. Geeze Louis, Ty's dog, Cindy, had found a porcupine in a bush! After securing the other animals out of the battle zone, it took 3 people to hold her down while we pulled 9 quills out of her lips! Fortunately, they were short ones and not delivered with a wallop of the weapon wielding tail! The prickly critter slowly waddled off, and Cindy suffered no ill effects at last report. We left early this morning after 4 days of mostly blue skies, the views along the road were spectacularly Alaskan.
I'm going to be in the field in September on a combination Grizzly Bear, Moose, and Caribou hunt. Let the folks at Seasoned Cooking know if you would like to hear about that adventure and a memorable meal or two!!