There are some days in the human condition when a man proper needs to catch his own protein. A time required when he simply, and to an end, needs to fish. To stalk environs still wild, and pluck from them that which lurks and swims in the murky underwaters. To hoist thy plunder proudly into the air, dripping there, sunbeams glinting of scaly flanks of slime, and declare that dinner is henceforth secured from this barren and trying land. And somewhere deep down, just past that soulish area where it ought to, it feels good. Indeed, it feels right. Such was the case recently, whilst afloat a lovely Wisconsin fishery that shall go nameless here, naturally, to throw off any would-be angling gumshoes, that my elder brother and I came into the good fortune of tight lines and nicely hooping rods. Pulling in assorted pan fish and frisky crappies, which when escorted by hook and line, floundered over the water’s surface with an acoustic DNA like that of the final slurps of a draining laundry tub. And we drained a few tubs indeed. We were men you see. Fishing men!
Speaking of, when we first fired up this blog, almost two years ago now, one of the first genuine interactions we made in the vastness of the blogosphere, was with another fisherman, one by the name of TJ Stallings. A kindred soul. A man who has made his living for decades, in the business of fishing. A feat any bloke who has ever wetted a line and declared it good, has just got to admire. And I do. If you fish much, you’ve probably heard of his company, Road Runner by Blakemore. And to this day, I enjoy perusing through his blog, to learn new things, and see what old TJ has been up to concerning fish craft. It’s a good resource, and if you’re into angling at all, as we are, you may wish to check it out some time at TJ STallings Fishing Blog.
Anyways, TJ must have grown a liking for the weekly drool which accumulated on his keyboard after reading our BBQ posts, and one day sent us a box of tackle, just because. That’s just how TJ is I guess. I thanked him accordingly, but it never felt like enough. So, TJ, this is another, albeit humble attempt of ours, thanking you for your kindness, and your generosity. And for just being plain cool. This is our fish dinner, you see, and it’s in your honor. This one is for you! Here then is how it went, and came to be.
So back at the lake, I tied on one of these 1/8th oz jig spinners, Reality Shad by Road Runner, and that was all it took. The games were on, you might say, and the fish were agreeable on Wisconsin waters. Rod tips pulsing towards China, blue gills and crappie on the run, 6 pound test line as tight as guitar strings, slicing through a quiet lake, whilst the summer breezes gently murmured through an oaken shoreline. Say what you will, but this is living!
And before I knew it, I had stringer well enough along for a decent supper. TJ would have caught them bigger, I know, but golly, I think I had just as much fun. So we loaded the boat, saddled up in the truck, and made our way homeward, over the border, and through the spanning countryside, winding roadways, and one well-placed Dairy Queen stop, all the while conjuring the glorious meal yet to come.
At POTP Head Quarters, first on the pit, and being the proper order of things, were the tin foil potatoes. They take about twenty minutes or so, over direct heat, flipping once for good measure. We like to season them with a dash of salt and pepper of course, and a few pats of butter to keep things sporty. We also tossed some frozen peas in there too, cause I heard once potatoes are not a real vegetable. What ever.
Meanwhile, and after the fish had been filleted out, they were dunked in a milk/egg mixture, and then shook about in a semi rhythmic fashion amid a plastic bag containing flour, salt, and pepper, until each morsel of fish meat was suitably dusted over.
Tossing some peach wood onto the coals, we preheated the griddle accessory of our craycort grate, added a little vegetable oil, and man oh man, what sweet pleasures then ensued when that cold fish hit the hot iron. The aroma and the sizzle, wafting into a beautiful, summer’s sky, whilst the tweety birds and men did rejoice. Man! And yes, that is a steak you see there towards the back of the pit, lightly seasoned in onion and garlic, and grilled to perfection. What can I say, I should have kept more fish! So surf and turf, of course, was the only viable course of action here. One of which I was prepared to endure. Oh yes. A pit keeper proper does what he must!
The fish cooked very fast, like most fish do. Just a few minutes per side, until they flaked easily with a fork. And tho the cook was fairly swift, the day was still delightfully long and tapering. A morning on a tranquil, Wisconsin lake, plying our craft of rod and reel. Then a drive through the rolling countryside, windows down, bass boat in tow – our shadows flickering through picket fences in the pastels of a long, evening light. And rounded off with a quiet spot of grilling at day’s end, at ease in the patio man chair, and an ice-cold beverage in hand. There are far worse ways to spend a day, people. I leaned back, tipped up the brim of my hat, legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, and further mused over the day at hand. How the sunlight dappled through the fluttering cottonwood leaves, and the clouds yonder, drift lazy but with purpose over head, where the wood smoke so gently rises. That too, and memories of fish and of men, for be it also the essence this day, impressed gently on the emulsion of the soul.
I am content, and highly blessed. And well fed. Amen.
Thanks again, TJ. Blessings!
Grilled tin foil potatoes, juicy steak seared and brought to medium, and a pile of freshly procured fish, fried over a peach wood fire, and all, every ounce of it, patron to the pit. Man! Are you hungry yet!
It was a pleasant morning as morning’s go. To be adrift out on a local waterway. Sunbeams glittering over the surface. Egrets and Blue Herons milling in the shallows. And a light-green, haze, signifying a budding spring, adorning every bush and every tree. The symphonic serenade of a thousand and one bird songs, mingle with that of dipping paddles, peeling fly line, flipping bails, and 1/32 ounce jigs clad in soft plastics, plopping in the drink. I drifted slowly along the wooded shoreline, resolutely plying the waters there, fishing rod in hand, with a clear, albeit idealistic mission – to catch a fish. Running this site, and eating T-bone steaks is great, and ribs sure do hit the spot, but I’ve been getting what they call “fish hungry” lately, and I aimed to do something about it. And today I might have even, had not I been such a lousy fisherman. Seems I departed the lake this morning with my stringer in void, not to mention my stomach. I was fish-less, and still, as it were, fish hungry.
Being the problem solver that I am, however, I did what any red-blooded, fish-hungry American would do. I stopped by the grocer on the way home and I bought me a fish! Mahi-mahi, to be exact. A lovely fare that which swims the oceans yonder, that at the time, seemed more than suitable for my needs. Let’s head back to the pit, and I’ll tell you more about it, and how it went and came to be.
Mahi-mahi, according to the Hawaiian interpretation, means very strong. By the looks of it, I’d say they’re probably right on that. A surface-dwelling, ray-finned fish known to inhabit tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate waters. They average about 15 to 29 pounds, can live up to 5 years of age, are highly sought after in sport fishing, and they sure as heck don’t live in Minnesota. But you can buy the meat of the Mahi-Mahi here, in point of fact, you can buy it all over the place. And man do they go good on the grill. Here’s how to do it.
Whilst the pit heated up, we patted dry two chunks of the tender fish, rubbed them in a coat olive oil, then, feeling Cajun or something akin, dusted them liberally with a blackened spice rub. Mahi-mahi is a non-fish lover’s fish. Meaning if you don’t fancy the flavor of fish, yet want to eat fish, then this is the fish for you. Very mild in fishy flavor, irrepressibly moist, and with the ensuing spice conglomerate, a delicious fare fit for the finest dinner table. Blackened spice is a real easy blend, and extremely tasty. A fish rub worthy of your time. Here is how to make it.
Blackened Spice Rub
- 2 Tablespoons paprika
- 1 Tablespoon each, onion powder, garlic powder, dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon each dried basil and dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (increase this if you like a little burn on the lips)
- ½ tsp cumin
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
Next step, and for artistic reasons only, we pre-heated the cast iron grate and coated it in a bit peanut oil for to secure the cosmetic beach-head of any would-be grill jockey – grill marks. Sear the fillets for a minute or so per side, just enough to get some nice grate lines. It doesn’t take long to cook these fish. They also are remarkably robust and hold together astoundingly well for this sort of grilling. Save your expensive planks for more delicate fish than this. You will be hard pressed, we wager, to dry out Mahi-mahi. Anyways, after some nice char marks were in vogue, we escorted the meat back to the cool side of the pit, opposite the hot coals, to loiter indirect there for the rest of the cook. The next item on the menu, is a little grilled asparagus, green and tender, for to please the lady folk. And it couldn’t be easier to do.
To amp up the flavor a bit, we had these asparagus spears soaking for a couple of hours in a simple marinade involving, but not limited to: Olive oil, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar.
Roast the asparagus over direct heat for a couple of minutes, rolling them like a batch of hot dogs for even cooking, until your desired tenderness is reached, and then tuck them back opposite the hot coals, keeping the fish company for the rest of the cook. Speaking of, you’ll want to flip the fish fillets according to your pit master instincts. Do what you need to do. It’s a rather quick cooking meal, unfortunately. Maybe 15 minutes at most. Denying the pit keeper the much coveted down time for the all-important business of drawing a lovely beverage and watching the clouds idle past a pastel sky. But I guess that is what ribs are for. Anyways, when the fish flakes easily with a fork, your dinner is done. Plate up thy spoils at hand, and commence with what you do best! Amen.
Blackened Mahi-mahi sided with marinated Asparagus hot off the grill. Man! Can you taste it! So if you’re looking for something sort of fishy for your next BBQ, and lack the angling mojo to catch your own, try this one out for sure. You shan’t go wrong. Nor be fish hungry.
Loitering pond-side, the old Weber kettle puffing quietly away, sweet sugar maple smoldering, wafting into the air. I lay aside the pit, in the thick, green grass there, immobile, in a fashion usually reserved for a coronary thrombosis I suppose. But I didn’t care. I was “hanging ten“, as the surfers out way of Waikiki would say. And the world was mine. Just staring up at the clouds as they roll past a beautiful, blue sky. Like Huckleberry Finn on the grassy banks of the Mississippi, I was at ease with everything. A cool summers breeze murmured amid Spruce , and tweety birds on high, serenaded the evening sun. The neighbors are probably used to seeing me “belly-up” in the grass like this, with the ilk of a hobo beside my smoking pits. But I’m slowly getting them trained in, by and by, and the pay off is high. For rarely now, whence I engage in such childish admissions, am I caught there and taken for dead.
On the grill tonight, we’ve got a dandy. Maple planked bacon cheese burgers. Kind of a two-part post, the first part being the recent write-up on Superior planks. Some of you expressed an interest in seeing more how this planking thing is done, and so that is what we’re up to today, at the patron’s pit. Its real easy to do, and will cast the viable illusion also, of being an experienced and highly-gifted pit master. Which is always nice.
The very first order of business when planking is to soak the wood thoroughly. Doesn’t matter how good your plank is, if it ain’t soaked, you will be singing a sorrowful rendition of Kumbaya around your flaming spoils should you neglect this key step. So just do it. An hour in the sink is suitable for most. But the longer the better. Then, whence your coals, or hark, even your gas grill is up and burning, go ahead then and lay the soaked plank on the grate and over direct heat. Let it preheat there a touch if you please, but you don’t even have to do that. Thus, and at last, place your intended vittles over the plank, and pause momentarily to appreciate the oddity of meat on wood. We formed some nice patties from some 80-20 ground beef, and laid a couple of strips of thick bacon on there too, for good measure. No man worth his tongs will ever argue the judicious use of premium bacon, and we weren’t about to tonight. Then place the lid over your grill, and assume your customary BBQ position – in the lawn chair, lovely beverage in hand, toes pointed to the heavens. And with this, you are half done already, and nearly a budding expert in the planking arts.
It is that easy folks. You nary need even touch it now until its done. You will want to, and its fine I suppose if you do flip the burger over, but we did not. It doesn’t need to be. When the lid is on, and the wood is acting like a heat shield of sorts, the grill turns into some what of an oven like atmosphere. Would you flip a burger in the oven? I don’t think so! That is half the magic of planking. The other joy tarries in the smoke. Depending on what flavor of plank you pick out, and some folks even soak them in apple juice, or wine, or what ever, the steam and smoke which rises forth, not to mention a hint of tree oil, dutifully impregnates your spoils with a woodsy authenticness like none other. As one of our readers, Carnivore Confidential, once said in his blog, “You don’t have a smoker? You don’t need one!” And its true. A more primal way of infusing smokey goodness into your supper, you shall not soon divine. Meat on wood over flame. Simplicity at its best. And poetry on the pit!
You can plank darn near anything too. From meats to vegetables to mashed potatoes, and even mushrooms. But perhaps the best use of planks is for the delicate fish fillet. No more dropping through the grate! Just put it on the plank and cook it. No flipping. No mess. No worries. So the next day, and with fish on my mind, I re-soaked the used plank. If you get good thick, hardwood planks, like that of Superior Planks, you can re-use them quite a bit. After a good soak in the sink, I placed the used-plank back on the hot grill along with some Tilapia fillets. Same process. Put the lid on and just let them do their thing. Many hard core plankers forego the seasonings all together, and just let the plank do the talking. And with that wood smoke and natural oils, turns out them old trees have a thing or two to say about good eating. Amen.
Like all fish, when they flake easily with a fork, they are ready for an immediate rendezvous with your belly! Smoked to perfection and kissed by smoldering wood. Man!
Maple Planked Bacon Cheese Burgers and Tilapia too, just because. Two of many things highly suitable for plank cooking. If you haven’t tried it yet, well, what the heck are you waiting for!
Here is an excellent method for grilling delicate meats, such as fish. If you haven’t tried plank cooking yet, your missing something out of your grilling career. It’s frighteningly easy to do, and here is how you do it!
First off, get your hands on some cedar planks, and these are often found in any grilling section of any hardware or big box store. Next soak them in water for no less than an hour. After that, brush down the surface you’re going to lay the fish on with a coat of olive oil. Season the fish how ever you like, and lay them on the plank nice and pretty like. Then head out to the grill and gently plunk the plank over direct heat, and smile to yourself as you put on the lid. Yes, it’s that easy. In point of fact, perhaps the easiest grilled fish you’ll ever do. You don’t even need to flip the meat. Just let it go. And the less you touch it the better.
As with any fish, when it flakes easily with a fork, it’s done. What happens during the cook is truly a wondrous dance between smoke and heat. The plank fairly sizzles, and releases a delicate barrage of cedar smoke up into your meat, infusing it, whilst in the same breath, protects your spoils from the inferno below. The result is a savory cut of fish tinted with an aromatic marriage of cedar and seasoning. A delightful flavor profile, with a woodsy tint. And because you never have to turn the fish, this plank method is particularly well suited for meat of this delicate nature, tho other meats and vegetables can be cooked the same way.
Cedar plank grilling. Give it a try!
And yes, a bite was taken from this picture for quality control reasons. A pit master privilege.
Happy New Year, from our pit to yours.
Looking back over another good year of grilling and smoking, – of BBQ, one of our favorite cooks, hands down, was pecan smoked white fish, freshly caught from a pure, upper mid-west lake, that of course in these cyber pages, shall go unnamed. Fishermen every where will understand. The smoked fish was at once tasty, succulent, and decidedly agreeable with our bellies. Even my wife liked it, and she doesn’t so much fancy fish. So if you haven’t tried it yet, your missing something out of your grilling career. Nothing is quite so fine, let it be said, than a day on the lake, angling under a beautiful blue sky, procuring your limit, and then whiling away the evening hours smoking your spoils over a gentle fire, whilst kicked back, and feet up, lovely beverage in hand, watching the sun slowly arc towards the trees. Your finger on the pulse of nature, and what once swam yonder; cooking quietly on the grill… Man! We cannot teach you how to fish right now, but here is how to smoke one, should you be so lucky.
First off, and before anything else, clean the fish as you like and let it soak in a brine over night. I know what some of you may be asking. What’s a brine, and why should I do it? Well, a brine simply put is a solution of salt and water that you soak your meat in to improve the over all quality of your end game. To brine your fish will first off improve the texture, and also add considerable flavor. But what it does best is convince the fish to retain moisture during the cooking process, and that is no small thing. If you’re a meat geek, and want to learn more about the science of the brine, check out this in-depth link.
Anyways, here is the brine recipe we favor to get you started:
- 2 Quarts water
- 2 Cups brown sugar
- 1 Cup kosher or pickling salt
- 1/2 Cup soy sauce
- 1/2 Cup lemon juice
- 1 Teaspoon each Garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper
Soak your fish in this over night. It will look like a sickly stew, and your first instinct will be to go throw up somewhere, but you’ll grit through it some how, especially later on, whence you smell it on the cooker. Next day, you will need to employ your considerable pit master skills and get your grill or smoker running pretty low, like 150 degrees. Every smoker is different, and every grill its own entity. So be creative, and assert yourself, 150 isn’t that hard to do.
- One tip – is to build a smaller fire than you normally work with, and to add a big tray of water which will act as a heat sink, absorbing some of the thermal energy you don’t need, and thus keeping the temperature lower.
Once you get the temp dialed in, you have just completed the hardest part of smoking fish. Lastly, put on a chunk of gently smoking wood. Pecan wood yielded amazing results for us, but any fruit wood will do. Thus, put the wood on and then the fish, and let her do her thing. In the mean time, grab your pole and head back down to the lake and catch yourself some more. Or perhaps make the acquaintanceship of your hammock, a meeting long over due. When the fish easily flakes with a fork, it’s done. Usually a few hours.