Campfire Cooking: Streamside with The Wild Chef

A “Stream to Table” recipe, presented by Dinner on the Farm

By Jonathan Miles, The Wild Chef


The adventurous eaters who dine with us in the farm fields all summer long may be getting a case of cabin fever right about now. Not only are we pining for warmer weather, but also the local food options which are abundant in the summer, yet scarce during the dormant winter months. For locavores and sportsmen alike, Minnesota’s ice fishing season helps make winter bearable. Bundle up in your coziest gear, find a frozen lake and spend the day quietly contemplating the beauty of a crisp and clear winter’s day with your favorite local brew.

Hungarian Fisherman’s Soup

For centuries, fishermen along the Danube and Tisza Rivers in Hungary have added an iron kettle to their fishing gear. The reason? To make halászlé, or fisherman’s soup, a spicy red stew that’s often cooked streamside over a campfire. Variations are infinite, but the essential components are whole freshwater fish and high-quality Hungarian paprika.

About 3 lb (1.5 kg) whole freshwater fish
1          large onion, roughly chopped
2          green bell peppers, roughly chopped
1          tomato, roughly chopped
2          bay leaves
2          tablespoons or more Hungarian paprika (hot, sweet, or a combination)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼         cup (1⁄3 oz,10 g) chopped fresh Italian parsley
½         cup (4 oz, 125 g) sour cream (optional)
2          banana peppers, sliced (optional)

Gut and clean the fish, separating the fillets but reserving the heads and other scraps. Slice the fillets into 2-inch (5-cm) pieces, rinse, and refrigerate until ready to use. Add the scraps—heads, tails, bones, trimmings—to a Dutch oven or large pot. Add the onion, peppers, tomato, bay leaves, and paprika along, with 2 quarts (2 l) cold water, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 35 minutes.

Strain the liquid into another pot through a fine-mesh sieve. Press on the solids to extract all the flavor, then discard. Add salt and pepper to taste. The broth should have a good kick from the paprika—feel free to add more if necessary.

Return the broth to a simmer, and add the reserved fillet pieces. Simmer gently, without stirring, for a few minutes—just enough to almost cook the fish through, since it will continue cooking off the heat. Add the parsley, stirring very gently so as not to break up the fish.

SERVING TIP: Transfer the fish pieces with a slotted spoon and divide among 4 bowls. Ladle the liquid into the bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream and a few slices of banana peppers, if using.

Salt-Crusted Fish

Nearly any fish can benefit from this impressive treatment. Double the recipe as needed, depending on the size of the fish and the appetites at the table, and feel free to adjust the herbs as desired. For an easy side, toss some cut potatoes in olive oil with salt and pepper, spread them in a roasting pan, and put the pan in with the fish.

1          whole fish, gutted and scaled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2          sprigs tarragon
6          egg whites
3          cups (1½ lb, 750 g) kosher salt
2          bay leaves, crumbled
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1          lemon, cut into wedges

Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Rinse the fish inside and out, and pat to dry. Sprinkle salt and pepper into the fish’s cavity, then tuck the tarragon sprigs inside.

Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then fold the 3 cups kosher salt and the bay leaves into the egg whites to form a thick paste.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Spread about a third of the salt paste in the center of the parchment paper and lay the fish on the paste. With a rubber spatula, smear the remaining paste all over the fish so that it’s completely encased. Place the pan in the oven.

Cook for about 25 minutes. By this time, the salt paste will have hardened into a thick crust. Allow the fish to rest 5–10 minutes, then crack the crust by knocking it with the flat side of a butter knife, and remove the crust in chunks.

SERVING TIP: Scoop out the meat, drizzling it with olive oil and giving it a squeeze or two of lemon.

Beer Pairing

What goes better with ice fishing than a quality craft beer in a can? We encourage you to try this dish with a pour of Bent Paddle Brewing Company’s Venture Pils. This craft lager features noble hops and Pilsener, 2-Row, and Carafoam malts—and is brewed with fresh Lake Superior water. This pilsener pays homage to the classic Northern Germany style with “a touch of American inventiveness.” This bright, refreshing pils is versatile enough to pair with fresh-caught fish—and the accompanying adventure.

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