Pecan smoke spiraled from the old pit damper whilst the lone drake floated serenely on the pond. The cool spring breeze caressed the cottonwood buds, and the sun, man, how divine it felt to sprawl at the terminus of one of it’s golden shafts. In a word, decadent! I was what you might say, “settled in” and pit-side, with a lovely beverage in hand and the game playing softly through the little speaker of the pit radio. The day was point blank glorious. Another vintage spring day in Minnesota. One to savor fondly from the vantage of a pit keeper.
I love to cook out-of-doors. It’s largely what I do. There are times when I actually wonder if my stove in the kitchen even works, for I use it so seldom. At certain times of the year, not unlike most grill jockeys hard into their game, a passerby of my open garage door may spy a pallet’s worth of charcoal stacked in there. Hundred of pounds of beautiful black briquettes awaiting my call. My bidding for the smoke. A pit keeper must be prepared don’t you know. Same unto the freezer adequately stocked with all matter of bits and bobs, from turf to surf. It’s all because I love to cook outside, and I for one do not wish to miss the opportunity should the impulse arise. Or, if by chance, guests come over keen with hunger pangs.
They did the other day, and I was ready. They all had cheeseburger shaped hollows in their stomachs, and the Pond Side Pit was the remedy! So I preheated the old Craycort cast iron grate, and freshly oiled it. ( See our review of this modular grate system here) I also deployed the cast iron griddle insert for this cook to assist in frying up a little bacon there. This was going to be fun!
Slow it Down Partner!
I stayed calm however. This is the hallmark of good pit keepers. The ability to exercise patience in the face of slobber-slopping expectation. You want with all your might to dive in and get after it, but then you know if you do, the fun will be only shortly lived at best. The trick then is to stretch it out. To make the moment linger if but only for the moment’s sake. It’s a game we pit jockeys play with ourselves. And those who do not love to cook outside just won’t get it. And that’s OK.
So I paused momentarily, like deep thinkers do, relieved myself of a certain pending gas, and I lit another fire in the chiminea. A blaze just for show, really, and patron I believe to higher levels of pit ambiance. Nothing is quite so fine as dual fires in a spring time cook out. The aromas surround. The crackle and pop do too, port and starboard. It works. It also slowed me down to better savor the day, which was the whole point. Then, whence a heady blaze was kindled there, I finally put meat to flame and grunted semi-appropriately in that golden light.
You don’t need to be told how to grill a cheeseburger. We’ve discoursed on that art enough in a hundred other posts. I will say, however, and if possible, do your best to refrain from pressing the burger patty with your spatula or tong, like you see so many people do. The only thing this does is squirt flavor clear of your supper. I will also say, glory be to the pit jock who does up his bacon and onions also on the grill. These two ingredients truly made the feast. Bacon and onions done over the stove are good and all, but doing them over the grill, allowing the wood smoke to adhere to the greasy bacon and the fried onions, well, it’s enough to make a grown body weep. And top these comestibles on your pecan smoked cheddar cheese burger and toasted pretzel bun, and well, I don’t have to tell you that you have officially arrived. And all your supper guests will smile and burp aloud, with grease dripping off their chins, as they tarry there, plumply, from the vantage of a pit keeper. Amen.
The kayak dawdled in the shallows whilst umpteen blue gills and assorted sun-fish loitered just beneath the hull. The sunlight had ebbed behind a bank of thickened clouds, and a bald eagle lit atop a shoreline maple tree, like a huge, feathered monolith fit for the gods. It was a fair day on the water, even tho progress was slow. Fishermen like to bellow that its not the fish count that matters where angling is concerned, but rather the act of fishing being what is important. Yeah. The truth is that’s just what we tell ourselves when we suck monkey butts. We get all poetic about things, often gazing henceforth to the horizon with gray, marbled eyes; turning our chiseled, Norwegian jaw line to the catch the golden sunlight of a quickly fading day. We stroke our grizzled chin, and then after some consideration of the matters at hand, generally come to the conclusion that we still suck, and casually shrug our shoulders upwards in a disheartening gesture of bitter defeat. Sometimes you just can’t get the fish. They just stare up at you, taunting thee, laughing little bubbles up at you and your meager pittance. You are but the unwanted blight in their aquatic world. No better than the biologic residue floating off their poo which resides at the bottom of the lake. Unless, however, you are lucky enough to have in your possession the humble J-Bug.
That’s what my elder brother coined it anyways, after its inventor who namely is me. The “J-Bug” is your classic fly tier’s brain thrust. A conglomerate affair of elk hair, a hank of neatly wrapped chenille, a size 10 nymph hook, and a highly selective draft of re-purposed ceiling fan parts. I dunno, but it works. When all else fails, the J-Bug works. Time was ticking, and the day was morphing towards night, so I tied one on and got to work. The fly rod hooped immediately into action, as if I knew what I was doing, it’s tip pulsing, the 7-pound leader slicing through the dark water, and within a half-hour I had half a limit already. That was good enough for this bloke. I laid down the fly rod, and unshackled my little thermos, drawing a hot cup of tea whilst adrift by a bed of lily pads. Well that was easy, I thought, quietly sipping my brew and studying the surface of the water. The old J-Bug did it again. For kicks I tied on something else, if for any other reason than to validate the worth of the J-Bug. But I promptly caught two more blue gill instead, and it wasn’t even a challenge. So yet again, I tied on something else, something a wee bit less appetizing- some unraveled, sickly looking clot of thread resembling a disheveled house fly with its tongue hanging out. And I couldn’t keep the dang fish away. Ten minutes later, however, and this is a fact – nothing… Not even a rise. That’s a day on the water for you. That’s fishing. We cannot understand fish anymore than we can understand women. The latter perhaps life’s finest enigma.
The next day, back at the Pond-Side Pit, it’s shore lunch time as the aroma of potatoes and onions frying on the old kettle grill dally forth into the still, evening air, courtesy of the cast iron deep dish pan from the good folks at Craycort Cast Iron Grates. This is the good life, people. You spend the whole day out-of-doors, so why would you go inside now, just for supper. Nay, fire up the outdoor kitchen instead, and lavish in the enduring pleasures patron to the pit. Firstly, chop the spuds uniformly, add a little oil, and be mindful to scoop them around, circulating the tater population for even cooking. For taste, we lightly dashed them with some Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. And after they were almost, but not quite done, we moved them over to the griddle portion of the grate to finish off there, and proceeded to fill the now vacant pan with enough oil for a quaint spot of deep-frying. Pop your cholesterol pills, because man, this is going to be good!
Time to prep the batter. Here’s the recipe for that.
Basic Batter for Fish
- 3/4 Cup of flour
- 2 Tablespoons corn starch
- 1/4 Teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 Teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 Teaspoon salt
- 3/4 Cup of water
Now make sure you start with good, hot oil before dropping your hard earned plunder in there. You all know how to do this. I like to drip a little batter in the oil and see what it does. You can even stick a match in the oil, and if the match lights, you’re good to go. We lined up the cast iron pan over direct heat, to get that oil good and hot. When everything chimes in accord with your pitmaster instincts, dip your fish in the batter, and let the frying commence!
Let it be said, because it true, but the sound of your once upon a time elusive quarry frying up in a vat of hot oil, accompanied by occasional nasal drifts of fried potato and onion, well there is no better illumination upon the skin of your soul that you have done something very good this day. Leastwise for your belly that is. Not to mention that small, often times forsaken tendril of real estate in a man’s mojo, that every once in a while needs to effectively and without error, “live off the land“, if but for any other reason than because he can. It feels good. Tastes good too. Check out these crispy fillets, people!
Oh yes. Pardon this patron, but I’m sorry, I’m going to take a bite of this right in front of you. You’re just going to have to deal with it.
Crispy, hot, flaky and succulent. Man! For what swims in yonder waters, for to court my iron pan and kettle grill, I salute thee. Nay, I devour thee. You gotta remember to breathe people. It helps by and by.
Deep-fried pan fish sided with fried potatoes and onions. Now that’s some kind of good! And your classic shore lunch, once again, patron to the pit.