Fish Boil

The fish boil is a meal and outdoors cooking ritual unique to Wisconsin’s Door County. Whitefish steaks along with red potatoes are gathered in separate nets to cook in a big iron cauldron over crackling hardwood. Once the water hits a rolling boil, the potatoes go into the pot along with pounds of salt; then, the fish and more salt. As the meal cooks, onlookers gather around the fire drinking beer or cider. Accordion music, played by the boilmaster between his chores, is customary. When he decrees the food nearly done, he tells everyone to stand back and tosses a pint of kerosene straight into the fire. Flames burst up, engulfing the pot and instantly jacking up the heat. In the flash of the blaze, the heavily-salted water boils over and splashes down onto the inferno, nearly dowsing it. The big bang that signals the end of a fish boil isn’t only for dramatic effect. It ensures the taste of the whitefish. A ratio of one pound of salt for every two gallons of water in the pot creates a buoyancy that makes ingredients want to float. As the fish cooks in a net, its oils rise and hover at the surface. The volcanic upsurge at the moment of the boil-over forces oils and impurities to cascade out over the edge, leaving nothing in the boiling water but clean-flavored fish and potatoes.


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