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Three surefire freshwater fish recipes for outdoor gourmet cooking

The next best thing to catching fish is eating them.

If you’re wondering how to cook those fish outdoors, here are three of my favorite go-to recipes that work every time., best knife store, best knives

by Leon Pantenburg

The upper Mississippi River is a fish factory. On my 1980 end-to-end canoe voyage of that river, fish were an integral part of my diet. (Read the story here.)

misssissippi river fishing, smallmouth bass, fish recipe book

I caught this smallmouth bass next to a bridge piling. During my voyage, I caught many varieties of fish.

Generally, while traveling downstream in our canoe, my brother Michael Pantenburg or I would start fishing about an hour before mealtime. By the time we were ready to stop, there would be enough to feed us. Michael went with me from Lake Itasca to St. Paul.

We caught several species of fish on our go-to 1/8-ounce yellow Mister Twister. (We used a medium-action, fast-tip, seven-foot rod, and Mitchell 300 spinning reel spooled with six-pound test line. That rig kept me fed until it was stolen in Greenville, Mississippi.

Here are three recipes for freshwater fish that anyone can prepare and cook outdoors, and that are sure to please. Add some rigorous paddling and/or other exercise, and you’ve just added the best sauce – a healthy appetite!

Shore Lunch 

Fish: either fillets or small panfish, cleaned and gutted

Crisco™ or some other solid oil. A liquid oil is bound to spill, and Crisco solidifies when it cools. An added bonus on the Mississippi was that Crisco proved to be my most useful lubricant for my oarlocks. It stayed on well, and could be washed off with soap and water.

Bisquick™ or some other pancake mix. We used Bisquick to make pancakes in the morning and for breading fish. The mixture worked well for both dishes.

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Hash brown potatoes, baked beans or some other side dish.

A traditional shore lunch was quick and easy, and that’s why we had some variation nearly every day. Somebody would clean and bread the fish, fire up the Swea 123, melt some Crisco™ into the skillet, let the oil heat to almost smoking and start frying.

It only takes a few minutes on each side to completely cook the fish. A can of beans might be heated up, or we’d slice and fry some potatoes. Depending on where we were, we might saute some fresh vegetables in the skillet before cooking the fish. Fried sweet corn is delicious!

Meal preparation time was about 30 minutes, start to finish, and we had a hot, delicious lunch with enough nutrients to fuel the afternoon paddling.

crappie chowder, panfish, Mississippi River

Michael shows the basis of a great meal on the upper Mississippi River.

Crappie Chowder

10 crappie fillets (or about 1-1/2 lbs of any firm, white fish. Catfish works very well!)
4 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
3 medium potatoes, cubed (Yukon Gold or white potatoes are best. They stay firm and don’t cook down to mush)
4 c milk (We generally had to camp near a town to get fresh milk.)
1/2 c. Half-and-Half
1 tsp Old Bay™ seafood seasoning
1 12-oz. can whole kernel corn (fresh sweet corn is best, if available)
salt and pepper

Melt butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about four minutes. Remove onions from skillet. Pan-sear crappie fillets for about one minute on each side. Remove fillets from skillet, and cut into small squares.

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Add potatoes and onions and cook, stirring frequently for about five minutes or until they begin to soften. Stir in enough cold water to cover potatoes, cover, bring to a boil, add Old Bay seasoning and cook for about 10 minutes. Add fish to potatoes and cook seven minutes on a slow boil. Add milk and Half-and-Half, stir and heat until very hot, but do not allow it to boil. Season with salt and pepper. (I won a Coleman™ Dual Fuel campstove with this recipe in the 2001 Crappie World Magazine recipe contest.)

Trout Foil Wraps

1 large square of aluminum foil (about 24-by-24 inches)

No fuss, no cleanup mess after this trout foil wrap meal and it's delicious!

No fuss, no cleanup mess after this trout foil wrap meal and it’s delicious!

Salt, pepper and favorite seasonings
2 lemon slices
Small trout, head removed. (Any small fish, or piece of a large fish, can be used.)

Place the aluminum foil on a flat surface and put the fish on top. Sprinkle the fish, inside and out with salt, pepper and seasonings. Put lemon slices on top and a couple pats of butter. Wrap tightly.

Place on hot grill or directly onto the coals of a campfire. Cook about 5 to 8 minutes on one side, and then turn. The fish is done when the flesh is opaque and flakes easily.

None of these recipes are complicated, and some, like the foil wrap recipes are wonderful for getting kids involved in the whole process.

If you are lucky enough to go fishing, and blessed to catch some, don’t mess up the best part – eating the catch – by using a poor recipe. Try these, and enjoy!

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