Aug 30, 2010

Door County, Wisconsin's Fish Boil Dinner

A fish boil is a must-do when in Door County, Wisconsin. Recently John and I made our second trip to this scenic peninsula. A fish boil is good eating prepared with flair and fire. Many people from Norway, Iceland, and Sweden settled in Door County making their living off the plentiful fish in Lake Michigan and it is these groups that brought the fish boil concept to Door County. Fish boils have been a Door County happening for more than 100 years. At first they were a way to feed a group of hungry fishermen and lumberjacks. Fish boils became a great church fundraiser but they eventually became so popular that restaurants made them part of their standard fare.

My husband, John, and I arrived 30 minutes before our scheduled dinnertime at the Old Post Office Restaurant, a beautiful dining establishment overlooking Eagle Harbor in Ephraim, so as not to miss the “show.” Fish boils start outdoors behind the restaurant. The fire was already going strong and the large kettle was boiling. We joined the other people seated around the fire. Earl, the Boil Master, arrived and explained, “A basket containing potatoes and onions has been cooking in the kettle and it is now about time to add the fish.”

Earl displayed the generous cuts of whitefish steaks in a wire basket and then it is placed in the pot. The fish is fresh caught everyday and is usually whitefish but lake trout can be used. It takes 10-11 minutes for the fish to cook during which Earl, the Boil Master, becomes Earl the wannabe comic.

Earl has a standup routine of fish jokes that he admits “smelt.” He answers his own fish questions. “ What song do fish sing at Christmastime? Salmon Enchanted Evening.” “What does the fish say when it hits the cement wall? Dam.” “How much does a pirate pay to get his ears pierced? A buck-an-ear.” And so it goes to the laughs and some groans from the hungry diners.

At just the right time Earl throws kerosene on the fire which causes the fire to blaze up and water to boil over. As the water boils over it takes with it a lot of the fish oils with which is one reason even those who shun fish love the fish from a fish boil. The fish is light, delicate and fresh. Not being a fish-lover I can testify to that. It is delicious.

After the boil over we moved to the restaurant for our dinner of fish, potatoes, and onions drizzled with generous amounts of melted butter. Accompanying the meal was the restaurant’s special cole slaw, rolls and that other Door County tradition - homemade cherry pie.

Door County is that pinkie-like peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan making fishing and other water activities the main attractions. But the land is also perfect for growing cherries. Door County’s other foodie treat is anything made with cherries.

Earlier John and I had toured the Lautenbach’s Orchard County, Winery and Market where they are all about cherries. We sampled cherry preserves, cherry BBQ sauce, cherry-honey-mustard pretzel dip, and wine with a hint of cherry. It is also where we caught the Door County Trolley for a scenic tour of the area.