I love to camp with my family. The mountains (if you can call them that) of Western Pennsylvania are serene and beautiful and we all look forward to spending a week each year camping in them. Of course, if I’m honest, we don’t actually camp. My understanding is that actual camping involves a tent strapped to a backpack filled with anything you think might help you not die that also fit into that backpack. What we do looks absolutely nothing like that. We take bicycles and bathe and stay in a cabin with beds. I am typing this on an actual computer and not even my phone. It’s like if we both lost our jobs and had to move into a smaller house with slightly fewer modern amenities but after a few days we got our jobs back and moved back into our old house and everything was still there just as we left it except a few plants we forgot lived in our house had died.
I told my manager we were going and she said “Oh, that’s great! You like to forage, right? You can forage some stuff, cook it outside, and post some wonderful, romantic recipes!” I tried to tell her that the flora and fauna is a bit different in Western Pennsylvania and that I may not have much luck foraging, to which she replied “I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
So I decided that I’d cook some stuff and grab some pretty stuff out of the woods and post a “recipe” so I could write the trip off on my taxes. That’s how write-offs work, isn’t it? Of course, even as I cook this dish what I am actually eating is hotdogs and cellophane bags full of fried garbage. This is camping, that is what I do when I camp.
Snark aside, this way of cooking fish is a new favorite of mine. Freshly caught (by someone else) walleye, roasted over coals on a pillow of hemlock and broiled under a burning log. Sound awesome? It is. You definitely need to do this… Although it would be easier done with a member of the trout family like salmon or another fish that is good medium rare. For the walleye I had to cook it on the coals for about five minutes and then move it a little further away from the fire to finish for another five.
Northern Hemlock is a wonderful tree. The needles are like a more bitter, more lemony, less tender version of rosemary. Cut some tender branch ends with lots of needles, layer them into a mass about the size and shape of a hockey puck, a little bigger than the piece of fish you are cooking. Next (you already have a fire going, right?) take two burning logs and place them, parallel, about six inches apart. Fill the gap between them with hot coals. Put your fish/hemlock puck right on the coals. The puck should burn fairly quickly, leaving about half an inch unburned around your fish. After 2-3 minutes, more if your piece of fish isn’t stupidly small, place a third burning log over the fish to broil it. Hopefully you have about an inch or so of clearance.
For the photo I grated salt cured egg yolk, which tastes exactly like a way over-salted egg yolk and sticks to your teeth, over the fish because I forgot to season it. I plated it with some broadleaf plantain, some absolutely disgusting tasting inkberries, and some partridge berries. I then fed the fish to my eighteen-month-old daughter and went down to my in-laws’ trailer to eat the pancake battered perch they were frying.