I love the sense of freedom around cooking outdoors. Somehow, just by virtue of being outdoors, our gastronomic expectations are lessened and everyone loosens up and has a good time.
Down at the lake, keen fisherman Rick Shaw showed me a brilliant trick for cooking salmon over the fire. After you’ve cleaned the salmon give it a good season inside and out, pop a few herbs or some sliced lemons in the cavity (if you have them to hand) and then wrap it up. This is the important bit - you need about eight layers of paper around the fish. I usually put some plain butcher’s paper down first, so that any ink from the newspaper doesn’t get through. Once your fish is tightly wrapped, give it a good soak in water so it’s heavy and all the paper is wet right through. Then put it on the fire to cook over a good base of embers. I usually turn it after 10-15 minutes to cook the other side.
The trick with cooking over a fire is to have the fire pit wide enough so that you can keep it burning on one side. You can then replenish the embers as needed. Trust me, there is nothing more frustrating than running out of heat before something is cooked through.
You can tell the fish is cooked by getting a sharp piece of twig and skewering through the paper and into the fish at its thickest part just below the head. If the skewer goes in easily, without any resistance, the fish will be cooked. Open up the paper from the head of the fish, taking off any charred paper, and once all the paper is removed lift off the skin. You will not believe how succulent and moist your fish is.
The anatomy of a fish means there will always be a line of long sharp bones, known as pin bones, that run from the head to about two thirds of the way down the fish just off to one side of the backbone. Take these out and you are away.
A few years back there were stories going round of people wrapping up a whole salmon in plastic wrap and then cooking it in the dishwasher. I’ve never tried it. Somehow it just doesn’t seem right to cook food in the same place you wash your dishes, even though it is all sealed up. Give me a fire to cook on any day.
If you’re camping or heading outdoors to cook, here’s another fun recipe to try Griddle Bread and Damper