Fresh fish is a staple of my diet. There are many delicious species and recipes, and it's incredibly satisfying to catch and cook something on your own. As a passionate angler, I harvest my fish in a variety of ways. I love to fly fish for freshwater species like trout or whitefish, conventional fish in the ocean for salmon or halibut, or set traps for shellfish. Depending on where you live, there is likely some sport fish nearby that you can harvest legally. It's essential you follow local laws on catch size, limits, species, and season. With that disclaimer out of the way, here are some of my favorite ways to prepare fish over a campfire or grill.
TIPS & TRICKS FOR COOKING FISH
- Keep recipes simple with coldwater fish like freshwater trout or saltwater salmon. A little lemon, salt & pepper, and fresh herbs go a long way. When cooking these sorts of fish, trap the moisture with a lidded cast iron skillet or aluminum foil and a griddle. These simple recipes pair perfectly with grilled potatoes and a tossed green salad.
- Try fish & chips with white fish like warm water walleye, saltwater halibut, or rockish. I love beer-battered or breaded fish with a squeeze of lemon served with grilled potatoes. Sauteed greens or homemade coleslaw go great on the side. Tip: cover the fish in flour before dipping it in the egg and bread crumbs; this helps the crumbs stick better.
- Smaller fish like brook trout or rocky mountain whitefish go great with bacon. Wrap the whole fish with bacon strips or use copious amounts of bacon grease to fry the fish in. As far as side dishes go, everything pairs well with bacon! But a tomato salad and some sourdough bread is a great companion to bacon-wrapped trout.
- For shellfish or less desirable cuts of fish, make stock, soup, or chowder. The latter is, of course, the most delicious option; heavy whipping cream makes everything better! Make a simple chowder with grilled corn (scraped from the cob), potatoes, onion, celery, stock, butter, cream, spices, and your choice of shellfish. My go-to shellfish for chowder is crab and shrimp, and I prefer to make homemade stock with leftover fish bones and heads.
HOW TO CHOOSE FISH AT THE GROCERY STORE
If cooking fish feels intimidating, don’t worry. It is one of the simplest foods to cook if you have fresh ingredients and proper cooking methods.
Whether casting out a line or buying fish from a local market, using fresh fish is key. Fresh fish has a pleasant saltwater aroma (not a strong fishy smell). At the store, look for fish that is not faded or grayed in color but instead vibrant. And if you can feel the fish, check for firmness and not overly squishy.
HOW TO COOK FISH (SMALL & LARGE)
Preheating your cast iron pan and oil beforehand helps for even cooking and the best flavor. Trapping in the moisture with a lid or foil helps keep the meat moist and flakey.
For smaller fish, I prefer cooking them whole with the heads. Flip the fish as few times as possible to avoid the meat getting overly dense and chewy. For larger fish, you might need to filet them. In this case, cover the filet and don't flip it at all.
Don’t be afraid to try new fish recipes and cooking methods! Fresh fish is one of the finest proteins and can actually be fairly forgiving to cooking temps and times. When in doubt, keep it simple: salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon can take you a long way.
Gloria Goñi is a photographer, writer, and unbounded dreamer. Finding great satisfaction and joy in fishing, hunting, foraging, and harvesting her own food, Gloria incorporates these topics and many other curiosities into her creative work. Despite her Spanish roots and insatiable travel bug, Gloria finally settled in Montana with her trusty Aussie-doodle, Berto. Together they fish, hunt, and photograph their adventures one river or mountain at a time. Follow along with La Pescadora for more wild adventures. Gloriagoni.com