Finger snaps to N’s golf clap welcome!
While I’ll normally be posting from London on all things affordably delicious, after my recent visit with N I returned not to rainy London-town, but to an unnamed rural region of my homeland – Canada. For my first post, I thought it appropriate to explore that most affordable of affordable wilderness meals: the Shore Lunch.
A proper Northern Canadian shore lunch goes way beyond a meal eaten in a specified geographical location. It is (not to get too manly on you here) any lunch that is the product of your labour, skill, guile or domination as a predator in the wild. It is simple, rustic, and in my case usually flavoured with stray pieces of lichen. Since I knew my time in Canada was limited, an afternoon in the canoe fishing and a reacquaintance with my camp stove were high on my list of priorities.
We set out looking for pickerel, a whitefish perfect for eating, in a lake about 45 minutes outside of town. However, we knew we were more likely to catch pike – a fish less desirable due to its y-shaped rib bones (pike have an extra set of bones not present in all fish). Northern Canadians are spoiled in their choice of fish, and we often throw back 7 or 8 pikes per 1 pickerel hooked, despite the fact that the tastes of both fish are comparable. We just don’t like little bones! However, we were bound and determined to eat whatever we caught.
Although the fishing was far from idyllic and stress-free (imagine 4 hungry people jammed in a canoe, no fish biting and lots of line tangles), we finally succeeded in hooking a decent sized pike (thanks to my brother’s superior fishing skills) and paddled directly to shore to whack the creature to death, clean, fillet and devour him in primitive outdoor shore-lunch tradition.
This was our lunch before we cleaned him, laid out on a lichen-covered rock. Now, before we get into exactly how I cooked the fish itself, lets go through a quick 101 on how to fillet a fish on a rock next to a lake with just your hands and a knife.
- Make a cut just behind the gill until you hit the spine. From there, turn your knife towards the tail, and slowly cut along the spine, trying to skirt along beside the ribs without cutting them off – thus producing a boneless fillet.
- From there, turn the fish over and perform the same task on the other side.
- After detaching the 2 fillets from the fish, we tossed the carcass into the lake and begin to skin. First, cut a small section near the tail end to give you something to grip. In a similar manner to our previous cuts, pull the skin with one hand, and press your knife along it with the other.
- Finally, rinse in the lake and prepare to cook. Remember, we aren’t talking about polluted lakes near big cities, but lakes clean enough to drink out of. And throw fish carcasses into.
Just to keep us on topic of all things affordable for those who like fine food – knowledge of how to butcher and cut meat yourself is always useful for saving yourself some money. I usually refer to Miss Vickie for help with turning my giant slabs of ‘whatever’s on special’ into serviceable cuts of meat – but she doesn’t have a section on fish.
Now, my favourite way to prepare fresh fish is to keep things as simple as possible, so the fish can really be tasted. Before we left home I mixed flour with salt and pepper, grabbed olive oil and lemon juice. I made a plain green salad and brought a container of leftover chili from the night before to round out the meal (it was also a back-up main course so we wouldn’t starve if the fish weren’t hungry).
We cooked our fish over our mini gas powered camping stove. Lightly dusted with the flour mixture, the fish was fried with liberal amounts of olive oil, with lemon juice squeezed on at the last moment before serving. If I had remembered, I would have brought a tiny packet of salt to season it with just before serving. However, I improvised.
In the end the fish was crispy, light and above all, absolutely fresh. It was consumed within 20 minutes of being caught. The chili was hearty and warm and the salad gave a fresh crunch to keep you from feeling too full of testosterone by the end. Above all, the meal was the taste of the air and the smell of the lake.
A true shore lunch is not simply a sum of its parts in food and the savoury flavour of lichen mixed with the odour of bug spray. It is the day, your company, the luck of the catch and the knowledge that you have been lucky enough to taste the outdoors in a way so few of us city folk can these days. I’d like to think that my brother’s satisfied grunts at the end of the meal made up for the previous frustration of an afternoon of being a paddle-boy for disorganized girls who couldn’t keep their lines untangles or their hooks unsnagged.