Fish are a nutritional powerhouse; with lots of protein, healthy fats, and a potent cocktail of nutrients that influence human brain function, optimize hormonal production, and even prevent aging! They’re also a camper or survivalist’s dream come true. Why, you may ask? Fish go fin-in-stream with the most important resource – water! Whether you love the outdoors, want to be a little greener, or need to eat to survive, learning to cook fish using traditional “off-the-grid” methods is a useful addition to any culinary arsenal. There are a many techniques available to catch wild fish, ranging from building your own rod to catching with your bare hands, but this article is going to discuss how to best cook up your catch.
First, let us discuss the different types of fish meat. “Oily” or “fatty” fish are fish that are over five percent fat by weight, while lean fish are under five percent. Oily fish include anchovies, carp, herring, salmon and sardines. They are generally known for their moist texture and richer flavors. Lean fish include bass, cod, catfish, and perch. They’re known for being a little tougher and a little less flavorful. Your location will be a big factor in determining what types of fish are available to you. Study up on your local species to be best prepared to feed yourself, for fun or survival.
1. Baking on Smoldering Coals
One of the best, and most basic, off the grid cooking techniques is baking on smoldering coals. While this method is useful for any kind of meat, it adds a certain smoky edge to fish that’s extremely delicious. Oilier fish are especially good when cooked with this method, since the hearty fats seal in a moist texture. Salt is a staple in every kitchen, and you may often hear people talking about bringing salt on outdoor excursions. This isn’t only for the taste, but it’s also especially useful in preserving food so you should take care to keep some with you on all outdoor cooking excursions and during your survival practice.
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As for leaner fish, they’ll bake best wrapped in foil or, in an emergency situation, large leaves will do the trick. The wrapping helps trap moisture in and steams the fish. Feel free to dress a coal-baked fish up with some lemon juice and butter if you’re cooking for leisure! It’s probably safe to say you won’t have these items handy during a survival situation, but in that situation, anything edible, and especially nutritious, will be delicious.
2. Pan Frying (if possible)
Frying the fresh catch in a large cast iron pan is also an option, if you came prepared with the pan and a little oil. If you’re frying for fun, a simple mix of flour, breadcrumbs and your favorite seasonings will keep well in a zip lock bag, is easy to transport, and makes for yummy treat. Even without the mix, the fish will be a great meal on it’s own; especially if you’re eating for survival. The biggest key is to make sure the oil is hot enough, a spit test should do the trick. Simply wet your fingers with some water and flick the moisture into the pan, if the oil “spits”, or jumps and bubbles, on contact, then you’re ready to cook.
You will need long tongs or a durable cooking spoon to flip and “fish” out the filets once they’ve fried to a light golden color. This method tastes great, even with only light salting, and works well for both types of fish. If no tongs or cooking spoons are in your repertoire, you can use a multi-tool or knife so long as you’re careful not to damage it, as you will need it for other important tasks as well. Worst case, there should be twigs and sticks around for you to use as cooking tools.
3. Building Your Own Smoker
Last, but not least, fish meat is fabulous fresh out of a smoker. Not only is it fresh, but smoking fish, or any meat for that manner, is optimal for survival-based situations because prolonged smoking results in dehydrated, well-preserved food that can be saved and stored for several days. Building, or finding, a smoker can be tricky, you just need to create a small space where a rack can hang above a fire and a ventilation system to bring the smoke up through the fish meat.
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Stacking appropriately-sized rocks is a good and, usually, convenient method of construction. Covering the vents with foliage can help trap in smoke and improve the cooking process, and burning clean, dry logs will provide the best smoky flavor for the food. While this process does take longer than the other two, the preservation effects of smoking could mean the difference between life and death, so it’s definitely worth learning about and practicing. For example, if you are in a survival situation and are having luck catching some fish, you may want to use a lot of that meat in the smoker simply for preservation, and then consume the meat at a later time when you may be running low on food.
Luckily, there are a lot of options when it comes to preparing fish off the grid using very little materials. Salt is perhaps one of the most underrated items in a survival situation, as it offers a convenient method of preservation. Adding other herbs, spices and extras will provide a welcome kick to your next camping meal, but of course, this may be out of the question in a survival situation. Lastly, Always make sure any fish you consume is thoroughly cleaned and cooked before consuming. This, combined with thorough cooking, will ensure you have a nice edible fish packed with nutrients to keep you going. Practice makes perfect, so next time you’re out in the backcountry or doing some camping, try cooking some fish with as little materials as possible, ideally using natural objects around you. Good luck!