A beautiful October day along the upper Mississippi River. The fish were perfectly fresh, a mix of smaller walleyes, pike, and catfish caught that morning by In-Fisherman Editor In Chief Doug Stange, who, after cleaning the fish, joined me to do part of the television shoot. We built a fire in a pit just up from and overlooking the river, while the camera guys set up. Lights, cameras, action.
I love to canoe and camp and have for many years traveled the remote border and boundary waters in Minnesota and Ontario. Doug asked me to do several shore-lunch preparations the way I like to cook outdoors. He insisted, though, that the preparations be something that could be done at home. And he insisted that I do one deep-fry recipe, for it's the way most of you cook outdoors (and at home) most of the time. We did a pan-fry recipe and a grilling recipe, along with quick tips for successful deep frying. I'll share the deep-fry tips in this issue.
Cooking In A Can
A cast-iron pan is the classic way to cook outdoors. A handy alternative is to use a one-pound or a two-pound coffee can. Punch two holes in the top of the can and use a wire coat hanger to make a handle. Remove any covering on the outside of the can, then heat it up good (over an open flame) at home to remove any other coatings the can might have. Cool the can and add enough Crisco or lard to fill it half full. Put the plastic top back on the can. On a trip you can use, cool, and reuse this oil several times.
Crisco and lard work well because when they're cooled they firm back up. No spilling. Secondly, deep frying calls for oil temperature in the 360F range. Crisco and lard can stand temperatures up to 400F.
Deep Frying Rules
Ã¯ Any wet batter must be ice cold, so that when it hits the hot oil it instantly seals the batter around the fish, allowing the fish to cook by steaming within the firm crunchy crust. The fish doesn't get soft and the batter doesn't get soggy.
Ã¯ To seal batter properly around the fish the oil must range from 360F to 380F. Without a thermometer you can tell if the oil's ready by adding a drop of the batter to the oil. The batter will bubble profusely on the surface if the temperature's right. If the batter's too warm or the oil's not hot enough, the batter just sits there, barely bubbling while getting soggy.
Ã¯ Don't add so much fish at once that the oil temperature drops too low. Allow the oil to heat back up between batches of fish.
A Nice Dry Breading
Flour seasoned with salt and pepper
A pinch of cayenne
Perhaps dry herbs, and garlic salt
Several beaten eggs with a little milk
Corn meal (or cornflake crumbs)
Dip a small fillet (or fish portion) in the seasoned flour, then in the egg mix. Allow the excess egg to drip off, then dip the fillet in the corn meal. Deep fry.
A Nice Wet Batter
1 egg yolk
1/2 c. ice water
3/4 c. seasoned flour
Mix the egg yolk, water, and flour. Dip a fillet, let the excess batter run off. Deep fry.
A Few Simple Accompaniments
Ã¯ Lemon always goes well with fried fish.
Ã¯ A nice (simple) dipping sauce--add fresh herbs (a heaping tablespoon; chives are nice) to a half cup of sour cream, along with a little lemon juice.
Ã¯ Compound butters work well--one nice one (and again simple) is a tablespoon of any fresh herb or a teaspoon of any dried herb (try basil, rosemary, dill, thyme, tarragon), added to a half cup of softened butter, along with a dash of lemon juice, salt and pepper, and a tablespoon of chopped parsley.
Ã¯ Make a horseradish butter by adding a tablespoon of prepared horseradish to a half cup of butter (the butters keep well in a cooler).
Corn, Coleslaw, Potatoes
Ã¯ Ears of corn can be roasted in the fire. Soak the ears with the husks on in water for about a half hour. Snuggle them right alongside the fire into the coals. Usually takes about a half hour. Peal back the husks and use the compound butter on the corn.
Ã¯ A simple but tasty coleslaw--chop cabbage and apples, then toss them with a little olive oil, along with a little lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.
Ã¯ Yummy baked potatoes--before wrapping each potato in foil, add a crushed clove of garlic for sensational taste (potatoes cook in a little more than 30 minutes, nestled along the edge of the coals).
Lucia Watson owns Lucia's, one of the Twin Cities' best restaurants, a lively, friendly, cozy place in the Uptown section of Minneapolis (1432 West 31st St., 612-825-1572). Drop by and say hello.