Welcome to Seasoned Cooking and to Phil's International Flair!
As I write this month's column, I am in the midst of preparing for another trip to Alaska. This is the season to enjoy the great outdoors, and there is no reason I can't make gourmet food under primitive campsite conditions. Here is what I plan to do...
One of my planned activities is to hike up to Crescent Lake with a group of people to fish for rainbow trout and grayling. Our plan is to catch some fish and cook them for lunch. As fate would have it, I am the designated chef for this one day outing. Since we will be a group of 8 people, and since we don't want to carry a lot of cooking gear, my challenge is how to cook the fish for all of these people using few tools and no skillet.
My tools are limited to a fishing knife and a wire grate for use as a grill. The only available wood for a fire will be spruce which does not have a good flavor for cooking. Therefore, direct heat grilling is out of the question or the fish will end up tasting like pine pitch. So, I have decided to "bake" the fish with radiant heat from a campfire in a makeshift fire pit. Let me explain...
My technique is to build a stone fire pit curved like a horseshoe. If the fire pit is constructed with a tall wall at the curve of the horseshoe, the rocks will radiate the heat toward the opening of the pit. I place my food at the opening, rotate frequently for even heat distribution, and the results are just like cooking in an oven. This may seem unusual, but I have successfully baked a birthday cake next to a campfire burning pine wood and the cake had no taste from the wood at all. If there is a prevailing wind, orient the opening of the horseshoe toward the wind so the smoke blows over the curve and away from the food.
Of course, a few small fish won't satisfy the appetite of a group of people after a long hike, so I have decided to add a few other things to the menu. The evening before the trip, I will prepare some Vietnamese shrimp spring rolls, individually wrapped in plastic to keep fresh. In addition, I plan to make a pasta salad with black olives and crumbled feta cheese. This will be easy to carry in zip lock bags and won't spoil. It will also go well with the fish.
Now, on to the recipe! Be well, and good eating!
To make this a gourmet meal, I'll need to bring a few additional items. The first is a good seasoning for the fish. I plan to bring along a homemade mix equivalent to Emeril's Essence. Lemons will also go well with the fish. And, of course, I will bring butter, salt and pepper. For the spring rolls, I will provide some plum or peanut sauce.
With these few items in place, I'll be prepared to make a gourmet meal in a primitive environment many miles from civilization. Let's hope the bears prefer the fresh salmon in the river rather than gourmet trout and grayling we will be eating in the mountains!
6 whole trout or grayling, gutted, about 1 lb. each
1 cube butter
3 Tbsp. seasoning (Emeril's Essence or equivalent)
3 lemons for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
With a fire prepared, arrange the grate near the horseshoe shaped fire pit so that the grid is perpendicular to the opening. You don't want your lunch falling between the gaps in the grill. You can control the amount of heat by moving the grate closer or farther from the fire. If necessary, you can rotate the position of the fish if heat distribution is not even. Use fishing rags to hold the grill when rotating.
Season the inside of each fish with the spice mixture and the outside of the fish with salt and pepper. Place the whole fish on the grate so that the heads are closest to the fire. As the fish begins to cook, rub butter on the outside surface of each whole fish and season with the spice mix.
Watch the fish closely. If it looks like the tail portion is not cooking at all, turn the grate for better heat distribution, but don't overcook the tail portions as the tail is useful in de-boning the fish after cooking. After about 5 to 7 minutes, turn each fish over, spread butter and sprinkle more seasoning. Cook an additional 5 to 10 minutes or until the fish is easily flaked from the backbone.
Serve each fish whole with lemon wedges, salt and pepper. To de-bone the fish, lift by the tail and using a fork or knife, flake the meat off one side, from tail to head. When the fish is not overcooked, all of the bones will remain attached to the spine leaving a boneless fillet. Turn the fish over and remove the meat from the other side of the fish in similar manner. Now you can enjoy eating. Enjoy!