July 28, 2020
By Brad Fenson
The explorers who used waterways as early travel routes regularly caught fish and ate them fresh for lunch. The high-protein meal would keep them energized for the rest of the working day. For anglers, a tasty shore lunch can induce a food coma that requires a short siesta under the summer sun. The meal is a midday reward that leaves anglers feeling content, proud of their fishing skills and maybe even a bit gluttonous.
Plan the lunch before heading out to fish and prepare a kit with things needed for the meal, from cooking utensils to ingredients. Having items ready to go in a standalone kit allows a fishing crew to make lunch quickly and efficiently, which means more time on the water.
The anticipation of a scrumptious shore lunch often prompts anglers to keep fish early in the day to ensure they can enjoy the time-honored meal. Agree ahead of time how many fish the crew will need for lunch, especially if fishing from more than one boat.
Step 1: Bring the Heat
After landing at the shore-lunch location, gather firewood and get the flames roaring to develop a good coal bed. While the fire is blazing, fillet the fish and prepare them for coating and cooking. A portable propane stove with two or three burners, such as the Camp Chef Summit or Ranger III, works well in areas where open fires are not possible or permitted.
Step 2: Toss in Sauce
The guides at Cree River Lodge in northern Saskatchewan know how to make a shore lunch memorable. Their special ingredient: Frank’s RedHot. Follow their method by tossing fillets in a plastic bag with a cup of the hot sauce until all flesh is coated. The sauce is not overpowering and the heat does not come through in the cooked fish, but it does add a nice flavor.
Dump several cups of flour into a second bag and add the sauced fillets one at a time, tossing regularly to coat the fish and to prevent the fillets from sticking together. Use enough flour to cover all of the fillets. No moist spots should show through the coating.
Step 3: Crisp with Lard
When the fire has died and the coal bed is glowing orange, place a large cast-iron frying pan on a grate about 12 inches above the coals. Add lard and allow it to melt until the bottom of the pan is covered by a half inch of liquid. The lard is ready for the fish when a bit of flour flicked into the pan sizzles.
Good old-fashioned lard will not burn like butter, olive oil and other pressed vegetable oils. Lard, which is rendered pork fat, will crisp the fish to a delectable golden brown. A war breaks out in the pan, where the lard will not let the moisture escape from the fish and the moisture contained in the fish will not let in the lard. The result is a crisp outer coating and a hot, moist fillet inside.
If lard is not available, peanut or canola oil will work.
A proper shore lunch always has accompaniments. Fried potatoes and onions, with a side of beans or corn, are natural complements. Coleslaw is another good option, as it can be made the night before and stands up to the abuse of a moving boat when stored in a cooler.
Dice the potatoes into half-inch pieces, and chop the onion. Again, use lard in a large skillet to fry the potatoes. It creates a finished product like what would come out of a properly heated deep fryer. Having someone serve as full-time potato turner is the best way to ensure golden, crunchy potato nuggets.
The order of cooking a shore lunch’s components is important. Put the potatoes on the grate first, as they will take the most time to finish. Set cans of beans and corn on the outer edges of the grate to ensure they do not burn. Open their lids most of the way and tip them open so the cans do not cook over. Start cooking the fish after everything else is on the grate.
Cooking the fish in large pieces or whole fillets will expedite the process of getting lunch on the table. The lard will cook the fish fast, so watch it carefully. Turn the fillets and cook until both sides are crisp and brown. Place cooked fish in a foil pan until ready to eat, but do not cover it tightly, as it will cause the coating on the fish to get soft. When everything is cooked, pour the lard off the potatoes and add the onions, which will take little time to soften.
Step 4: Serve the Feast
Mound thefish and sides on a plate, and place it away from the fire to ensure nothing gets burned. As the feast begins, it’s nice to have sauces on the side to go with the fish. Try a little hot sauce or barbecue sauce, or combine it with ranch dressing. Of course the old standby, tartar sauce, always works. Don’t be surprised if everyone goes back for seconds or thirds, but leftovers are never a problem. Store them in a cooler, and they can quickly transform into fish tacos for a snack.
- Cut small pieces of wood to place on the coals when extra heat is needed without lots of flames.
- Bring long-handled tongs and spatulas to keep hands as far away from the heat source as possible. Fire-resistant cooking gloves are another smart addition to the shore-lunch box.
- Keep a knife sharpener in the kit, as cleaning fish can quickly dull a blade.
- Pack canned fruit, as it’s an easy dessert that does not have to be opened if everyone is full from the main course.
- Always clean up the lunch site when the meal is over; take out everything that was brought in. If necessary, clean up after others who used the spot but were not as thoughtful.