I am a planner. I like to know what lies ahead and how I am going to get there. I employ this attitude in almost everything I do in life. Stepping outside the plan is difficult for me, especially if I am not prepared for stepping outside the plan (somehow that doesn’t even make sense, but if you are planner then you know what I am talking about!).
Camping is a planner’s dream, or nightmare depending on how you look at it. I make lots of lists, trying to think of the unexpected popping up and how I will be prepared to tackle it. I try to cover everything I would could possibly need. Everything is broken down into lists, which have sub-lists, and then the lists are checked through, usually twice. For cooking, there is the master list of each meal: breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, and snacks. Then each meal is broken into two sub-lists: ingredients and tools. And then there is another list entirely for stocked items that I try to take everywhere. Things like cutting boards, knives that actually cut things (as opposed to most camping knives that tend to just tear things! I hate that!), extra bowls for mixing and such, spatulas, aluminum foil and Ziploc bags. The list is an ever evolving task that is added to each time a new hunting or camping trip happens.
With all that said, this past camping trip presented an unexpected. I never plan on catching fish. I consider myself a bad luck fisherman actually. Everyone around me can be reeling them in, and I will sit idly watching happy faces pull in beautiful fish. I would say it makes me sad, or jealous, or angry, or something, but I actually am used to it by now. So, you can imagine my surprise when this past weekend I limited out on rainbow trout two days in a row.
Since I never plan on catching fish, I never plan on cooking fish while at camp. This time was different. As I was cleaning the trout, I had this overwhelming urge to have fresh lake caught fish that night. I didn’t know how it was going to happen, or if I had anything to prepare the fish with, but I knew it needed to happen. I needed to ditch the planned dinner and make a fish dinner.
Since supplies were limited, I decided to try and cook this fish in foil packets in the actual fire pit. I have done other meals this way before, usually ones filled with meat, potatoes, vegetables, and a gravy base. It is a quick way to make a fantastic tasting meal. It requires little preparation, little clean-up, and amazing results. I had never done fish this way before though.
Besides having no set way to cook this fish, I also had no recipe. So, this impromptu meal was going to have to be a “clean out the cupboard” type effort. I searched through bins for whatever spices and ingredients I could find. This recipe is what I came up with, and I have to say it was superb. I felt like I was eating at a five-star restaurant.
To start, you have to build a fire. This is usually a given at a campsite, but I thought I better mention it. If you aren’t much a fire chef, which I can’t say that I am one, you can also heat up some coals and just place the packets on top of the coals. I used my charcoal chimney for my dutch oven to heat up about ten coals and cooked over those. It worked great.
To start, cut two pieces of aluminum foil about twice the size of fish. There needs to be enough foil to fold over the entire fish and other ingredients and then wrap the edges closed. The fish should be centered in the piece of foil with at least an inch of room around it. You want to use two pieces of foil to create a really good barrier between the heat of the fire and the fish. I have single layered the aluminum foil before and things tend to burn rather than steam.
Salt and pepper the fish. If you have some lemon pepper, which is a common seasoning used for fish, that would be great. You could also do my go-to favorite, Montreal Steak Seasoning. I put that on everything because I appreciate the balance of salt and pepper it has. Once the fish is seasoned, add thin slices of onion. Since this is an impromptu menu item, you might not have onions. You could also do minced garlic. Even dried onions or garlic would work, which is something many people leave stocked in their camping supplies. I tend to always take onions with me when camping because they can be added to many different dishes.
On top of the onion, places thin pats of butter. My slices were cut about a 1/16 of an inch thick. You could cut the pats thicker and just not place as many on top of the fish too. I ended up with about five mirco-thinly sliced pieces per fish. It was a good amount of butter. Oh, just a quick note. The butter I had was unsalted. If you used salted butter remember to not add more salt to packet or you could end up with a very salty dish.
Gently pour a good drizzle of Worcestershire sauce over the fish. It is okay if it just pools up below the fish. Once sealed, the packet will steam everything and the sauce will infiltrate the fish beautifully!
To create the packet, fold the foil over the top of the fish. Gently start rolling the edges of the foil towards the fish, taking care not to puncture or rip the foil. The foil has to be completely sealed or the juices will run out and things won’t cook right. If you tear a whole, grab another piece of foil and add another layer to the packet. The best way to think about making packets is to just try and keep things pretty. The prettier the packet, the better things seem to hold together.
Cook the fish about five to seven minutes per side. This will ensure the fish is flaky and pink, the onions are soft and sweet, and the butter and Worcestershire have melted into a delicate sauce. When I was cooking, the packets actually puffed up when they were finished, which was also a good indicator that things were done. However, if there are any leaks in the packets, this won’t happen so I would keep an eye on the timer.
For a quick side dish, I cooked up some cheesy dutch oven potatoes. Cube the potatoes into bite size pieces, season with salt and pepper (or as I did, because like I said I am crazy, you can add Montreal Steak Seasoning. I have a problem.), and cover with cheese. You could also throw in some onion if you have left-overs from the fish packets. Cook over coals, about ten to twelve on the bottom and eight to ten on the top, for twenty to thirty minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.