Slay to Gourmet: Salt-dome walleye


Using the technique of covering fish in salt domes to cook, they end up steaming in their own liquids, leaving the flavors and moisture completely in the fillets // Photo by Matt Lien

“Slay” photos by John Wipfli
“Gourmet” photos by Matt Lien

Walleyes and campfires are a big part of living in the Midwest. Just like lobsters come to mind when I think of Maine, and images of mountains pop into my head when I think of Montana, walleyes and campfires are two things that define Midwest living for me.

Walleyes are plentiful, fun to catch, and, most importantly, they taste great. Because walleyes are often relegated to a heavy batter and the deep fryer, I wanted to try a traditional cooking technique that would bring out the best qualities of Minnesota’s prized fish, while being simple enough to do over a campfire.

Over the July 4th weekend, I had the opportunity to go slay some walleyes with Ben and Matty Michlig in the north woods of Wisconsin. Jigging night crawlers in 12–14 foot water, the dusk bite was going well until some unanticipated lightning pushed us out. Semi-reluctantly, we sped with a full livewell back to the cabin to enjoy the rest of the evening and discuss salt-domed baked walleye.

Baking walleye in a salt dome is such a simple and effective technique I’m surprised that I haven’t done it more often. With a couple walleye, salt, egg whites, water, and a fire, you can make one of the tastiest and most impressive walleye presentations possible. What’s more, the technique really respects the integrity of the walleye and brings out the subtle flavors that are often missed when it’s deep-fried.


Matty Michlig with his catch // Photo by Jon Wipfli

By fully covering it in salt, the fish ends up steaming itself in its own liquids, leaving the flavors and moisture completely in the fillet. Cooking time can be a little tricky with this technique, but there’s a little leeway in the sense that you’re most likely not going to dry it out. I cooked mine over wood embers in a wood-burning stove for approximately 20 minutes, which seemed to be just about right. Over an open fire pit, it might have to sit an extra five or ten minutes.

The other beautiful thing about this recipe is that you can apply the same technique to other fish you may catch as well as any vegetables you may have on hand. Potatoes, rutabaga, or beets cooked under a salt dome can be an extremely satisfying pairing for this meal. Just make sure to bring along some extra lemons and olive oil to garnish everything with before eating.

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