One Patron’s Foray Into The Fine Art of Hardware Store Dining
It was the last of autumn, and the days they were falling short. All the leaves had fallen, sunbeams in scant supply, and the tweety birds and retired folk had gone south now, to tarry under balmy skies, and big umbrellas. The hardy residents that which remained, however, here in Minnesota, could be found battening down their homes; cleaning gutters, mulching leaves and stacking firewood. Prepping their nests for what wintry tempests may brew. This increased activity on the home front is surely sparked by the seasonal folds, and likewise may I say the same about my dinner tonight. A nice spot of hot, savory soup sounded good all day, chicken and wild rice to be exact, and when I got home, I aimed to do something about it.
Oddly enough, my sojourn into soup today started many hours previous, flannel clad, in a local big box store which rhymes roughly with “my nards“. Anyways, I was strolling through the manlier sections of the real estate there, fondling saber saws and cold chisels, you know how it goes, when I came upon a small grocery section, recessed deep in the bowels of the store. It was lovely to the eyes, I must admit, like a gastronomic island oasis in a sea of hardware. I paused as any man would, in the shadow of a veritable wall of beef jerky – meat spanning a fathom wide off both my anatomical port and starboard, and rising higher than I could reach. Glory be, but I had stumbled upon a worthy den! I moseyed thus over to a wall of assorted nuts, all neatly canned and priced to sell. Every nut you could think of. In every size and shape. And I might have lingered there too, had I not first been wooed by the soup.
The soup was in an semi-attractive yellow package I guess, but the price was even more handsome still. I do not know why, but men folk are sometimes drawn to these things. I think because it looks easy. Or barring that, it must be the pretty pictures. At any rate, Shore Lunch Creamy Wild Rice it was called, and it even looked creamy, so I tossed it in my cart. I knew with a supplement of chicken quarters I had back home, and a hand full of mesquite wood chips, I could do something worthy with this humble offering, patron to the pit. And that’s just what we did.
So under a gray November sky, we did up the soup as per it’s instructions, but of course we did it on the faithful Weber Kettle, for poetic reasons you see. Real men don’t need stoves! Placing the pot over direct heat, stirring often, it’s heady aromas soon melded with the cool, Autumn air. Along side, we lightly seasoned some chicken quarters in garlic salt, and grilled them up as well, opposite the hot coals. And lastly, we tossed some mesquite wood onto the coals for that signature scent and added touch only found in outdoor cooking. There by, and for a good while, we let it simmer and smoke whilst the November breeze rustled through the old oak tree. It was good times, as the season’s first snow flakes fluttered down about thee.
When the chicken was bronzed and savory to eat, and the soup had thickened up, we brought it all inside. Shredded the chicken and stirred it lovingly into the soup, bringing a smokey tinted affair to the meal. And it was good. Darn good I must say. My bride mistakenly assumed even, that I had slaved the afternoon away, preparing the dish from scratch. Now I suppose I could have let the myth perpetuate itself, with my chest stuck out in sad deception- but I couldn’t. I eventually had to fess up that tonight’s rations were procured from but a humble yellow bag that I found at the hardware store. And if she didn’t mind beef jerky and nuts for dessert, I had that covered too! Amen.
Mesquite Smoked Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup. Sometimes you’d be surprised where your next meal will come from. Then again, all is possible patron to the pit. Grill on, people!
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!
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.