If the words “lake” and “fishing” are included in an invitation to a press trip, I’m on it. I love being on the water and the excitement of feeling a tug on my line. I get a kick out of seeing what’s taken the bait. And I enjoy posing with my catch – before I slip it back into the water. Fish on the plate is not my thing.
But if you visit Door County, Wisconsin, you’re going to meet the area’s favorite fish: whitefish. And you’ll see a number of places offering a fish boil. It’s a tradition that dates back to early Scandinavian settlers, and in spite of my natural inclination to avoid finny feasts, I’ve been to three.
Some say that fish boils were an easy way of feeding large groups of loggers. Although no loggers line up now, you’ll definitely see large groups – it’s a camera-worthy operation.
Out in the open, preparers light a bonfire then suspend a large kettle with a lot of water and a lot of salt in it. We’re talking 35 gallons of water and 10 pounds of salt. Once that’s boiling, baby red potatoes go in. Ten minutes later, sweet onions are added. Ten minutes after that, the fish are added.
During cooking, the oil from the fish rises to the surface. Now things get exciting. To get rid of the oil, the boil-master throws a couple of cups of fuel oil onto the fire. Whoosh, the flames leap high in the air; the pot boils over and the oil runs out.
Guests, who’ve been outside watching the whole operation, troop inside to be served. The fish is really bony, so eating is done slowly and carefully to avoid an impaled palate.
Then comes my favorite part of the meal – cherry pie. Door County is famous for its Montmorency cherries.
While fish isn’t my favorite dish, this experience is definitely worth doing. Pelletier’s in particular does a great job, and they’ve been doing it for 35 years. During the tourist season, they do about 1,200 fish boils per year – five to seven boils a day, seven days a week. Come and get it.
Here’s what I really like: whitefish paté. Fuzzy Sundstrom, owner of Fred and Fuzzy’s in Sister Bay, serves his paté with chopped tomato and red onion and pita triangles. And it’s even better when served with a tall, cold Door County Cherry Margarita.
Fuzzy’s Fish Paté
¾ cup smoked fish, flaked (you can substitute smoked or regular salmon, which is easier to find here)
½ cup mayonnaise
¾ teaspoon dried onion
½ tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
Mix together; chill and serve with crackers. Play with the seasoning if you wish. I guarantee – this is good stuff.