Not even the fanciest restaurant with the most masterful chef can top freshly caught, freshly prepared fish on the shoreline of a pristine lake or river.
But wilderness gourmets face a serious handicap: There isn’t enough room in their heavy packs for fancy kitchen utensils and cooking supplies.
Mike Prom, owner of Voyageur Canoe Outfitters on Saganaga Lake at the end of the Gunflint Trail, is one of the most accomplished wilderness chefs in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Prom’s wilderness cooking skills are a customer favorite, known for pleasing even the pickiest of palates.
Like most fishermen, Prom loves catching boatloads of fish, but he keeps only what he intends to cook that very day. “You don’t have a refrigerator or ice, so just keep what you are going to eat for the next meal. Just clean and eat so they are fresh,” he advises.
The first rule of wilderness cooking, according to Prom: Always use a cast iron or steel frying pan. When the weight of his pack has been an issue, Prom confesses that he has made do with aluminum. “It’s difficult to regulate heat with [aluminum frying pans] so avoid them if you can,” he cautioned.
Prom’s other essentials include a sharp fillet knife, a portable knife sharpener and a spatula, plus a carefully selected stash of ingredients for his favorite wilderness-friendly recipes. Here are three of Prom’s best dishes for impromptu shoreline cooking:
Grilled lake trout
Place a grilling rack over a campfire. Use a fillet knife to remove the trout’s skin. Season trout with butter, lemon pepper and garlic. When the coals are hot and burning low, place the trout directly on the rack and cook about 5 minutes per side as conditions allow.
This is a great option for pike, smallmouth or walleye fillets. Clean the fillets, pat dry and coat with a breading mix, either a homemade or a prepackaged variety. Place pan over heat and add a few tablespoons of Crisco. When Crisco is melted, season pan by frying a slice or two of bacon. Once the bacon is fully cooked, place the fillets in the hot Crisco-bacon grease and fry, turning once, until the fish is flaky and cooked through.
Poor Man’s Lobster
This recipe is well received even by those who dislike fish, says Prom. It works with all game species but turns out best with northern pike. Remove the y-bones so you end up with five different slices of meat. Cut meat into 1-inch squares. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Add some crab boil seasoning (Zatarain’s is the most common brand, and Prom says it works just fine) and, using a slotted spoon, place the fish cubes into the boiling water. Cook for 5 minutes. Remove using a slotted spoon and serve with melted butter for dipping, just as you would with lobster.
Ron Hustvedt Jr. is a Ramsey-based writer. Find him at WriteOutdoors.com.