There are many beautiful, scenic locations across North East Iowa where you can while away the hours fishing before returning with your catch to your camp site. And there are few tastier and childhood memory-invoking experiences than cooking your catch over an open fire, sitting under the stars with a beer or three and swapping 'the one that got away' tales long into the night. Just in case the years have blurred your recollections of just how your mom and dad or grandpa cooked up that wonderful fresh fish supper, here's how to do it safely.
First of all, make sure the fish is safe to eat. Never eat fish that appears spoiled. Fish can spoil very quickly especially in warm weather so check out the following signs and discard any fish that you have doubts about. The Iowan rivers and lakes are so abundantly stocked that you're bound to have plenty of fish to choose from!
- Unpleasant odour
- Eyes that appear sunken or cloudy
- Gills should be red to pink and scales should be bright not cloudy or faded in appearance
- The fish should appear moist or wet, not slimy
- Press the fish's flesh with your thumb; it should not remain indented after you remove the pressure
- When cooked, the fish will have a slightly earthy flavour but should not taste sharp or peppery
Prepare the fish quickly and keep it as cool as possible until you're ready to cook it. Remove the gills and any large blood vessels along the spine. If the fish is more than 10cm in length, you will need to gut it. Take a sharp knife and make a slit along the fish's belly from just below its head. Scrape out the guts, wrap in paper and discard.
At this point you can remove the head, fins and tail or even fillet the fish completely if you don't like eating around the bones and depending upon which method of cooking you're going to use.
It goes without saying that you should take any rubbish away with you and leave the area around your camp site exactly as you found it. Keep North East Iowa beautiful and unspoilt!
The most popular way of cooking freshly caught fish over a campfire is to fry it. You'll need a small amount of olive oil (or similar), a spatula, a pan, a cooking grate and some breadcrumbs (optional).
If you're using breadcrumbs, dip each side of the fish into the crumb until it's well coated. Put some oil into your pan and place the pan onto the grate over the fire. When the oil is nice and hot, pop the fish in. Turn them over frequently so that they don't burn. As soon as the breadcrumbs begin to turn golden, carefully split one of the fish with a knife to see if it's cooked. If the flesh is white, shiny and flaky in texture, it's ready to eat. If not, wait a little longer.
Arguably the tastiest way to cook fish is by boiling it. Place a pan of clean water on a grate over the fire and bring it to the boil. Put the fish into the boiling water. Test to see if it's done by gently testing one with a knife; when the flesh flakes, it's ready to eat.
Drain the fish and serve with a small amount of butter, seasoning and some fresh herbs.
Over hot coals
This method is my favourite. The fish has a delicious smoky flavour that just screams, outdoors! Wait until the fire dies and only the hot coals are left in the fire pit. Skewer the fish lengthwise and place them directly onto the coals. Turn them frequently to make sure they cook through evenly. This method is the quickest and the fish should be ready to enjoy within a few minutes.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.