Tuesday, 20 December 2005

Fishy business

The other day I somewhat nonchalantly mentioned that I had lit a fire using a firesteel (using a spark not matches or a lighter) and that I had then cooked trout and that the trout was perfectly cooked. At the time I felt as though I had conquered the elements and was now ready to take on anything. Having attempted to replicate this success last night by lighting a fire with the firesteel and then cooking salmon I realise that there was a little more luck than judgement going on.

The fire for a start wouldn’t. After a few strikes of the steel I could get the tinder to light but whenever I added twigs they succeeded only in putting the tinder out rather than lighting themselves which was my intention. Occasionally a couple of very tiny twigs would burn up but the only result of this was that I was soon out of very tiny twigs and so had to move up to the next size of twig; the almost very tiny twig. Almost very tiny twigs are far more efficient at putting kindling out. At this point I did consider using the time honoured paper and lighter approach to getting the fire going but decided to persevere. In the end I managed to get the not very tiny twigs burning but the problem was that these twigs are so small that they burn very quickly and by the time some slightly larger twigs have been put onto the blaze they have burnt themselves almost out. The thing to do at this point – I discovered eventually – is to push all that remains of the almost very tiny twigs together and blow on them, a lot. This causes the flames to flare up again and with a bit of perseverance the larger twigs will catch alight, one thing to remember when blowing onto a fire is to turn your face away from the smoke when breathing in, failure to do so will result in much comedy coughing and spluttering.

Once the fire was going I put a couple of shallots and some garlic to roast as close to the fire as I could get it without them catching fire, had the garlic not been off and had I left the shallots there for long enough to cook this would have been lovely. A few days ago when I had cooked the trout I had done so over the embers of the fire which threw off a lot of heat but little smoke. Yesterday I was impatient and started to cook the salmon shortly after the fire was lit and it was giving off a lot of smoke. Within a couple of minutes the fish had gone the waxy yellow colour of a chain-smoker’s finger and this colour deepened and became even less attractive as time passed. Whilst I was yellowing the fish I was also cooking some potato, this was going a lot better as it is pretty hard to mess up boiling potatoes. A stock cube added to the water gave them an interesting flavour and also meant that the water was drinkable and thus did not go to waste.

By the time the potatoes were cooked the fish was a dark yellow colour on the outside and still very raw on the inside. I guess that there was just not enough room over the fire to cook fish, potatoes and fry shallots and thus the fish ended up away from the heat. I cunningly thought I would bung the fish in with the shallots and speed up the cooking process that way. It kind of worked but the salmon steaks fell apart and started oozing a yellow fatty mixture that when mixed with the shallot produced the most acrid fumes I have yet experienced. There was no smoke as such but the atmosphere around the fire was barbed causing my breath to shorten and my eyes to water once again. I would not recommend serving salmon with shallots, at least not prepared like this, the taste was truly grim. The potatoes though had taken on the taste of the stock cube and when sprinkled with parmesan (mouldy bits chopped off) were rather nice.

After my feast I listened to the radio whilst trying to clean myself and the billy cans of soot, tears, oily fish and associated stains. I have not really cooked anything since June and it might take a while for what little talent I had back then to return. However, I am sure that by next June I will be giving Jamie Oliver a run for his money when it comes to cooking outdoors – Pheasant Twizzlers anyone?

1 comment:

Penny Munn said...

Your account reminds me of evenings when the fire smoulders obstinately, or mornings when the logs are tough and refuse to split for ages. It's these situations that make the successful times feel so sweet.They also provide plenty of opportunity for reflection on the task in hand. Have a good Christmas