One of the most memorial moments we shared at Anderson’s Lodge Tom’s Landing Outpost Cabin was the shore lunch (Well actually dinner if you want to get technical) that we prepared right at the cottage. The walleye were caught right off our main dock!
Back when I owned Chaudière Lodge, shore lunches were the highlight for most of my guests during their visit and something that I loved to do! It got me out of the office into the wilderness and gave me the ability to share an outstanding and unique experience with people from around the world, one that they will always remember. It was a skill I learned from Billy Commanda, one of my guides, and he is a master shore lunch artist, to say the least. During my tenure at Chaudière, my guests would always ask me “how do you make the dredge/batter and how can I do a shore lunch myself?” Well, I finally have the platform and opportunity to share this information with all of you, so hold on!!!
First, you need your main ingredients; Fish, Chaudière dry dredge/batter, Chaudière tartar sauce, fresh-cut fries, and maple flavoured canned beans.
THE SHORE LUNCH
Typically shore lunches consist of walleye, one of the most delicious tasting fish on the planet, but don’t get hung up on the walleye thing. When I was lucky enough to fill in for one of my guides, I always got a shore lunch done, but there were times we didn’t catch walleye. I remember one wonderful shore lunch, on a sand beach on the shore of one of the goose Islands in the middle of Lake Nipissing. We ate perch and freshwater drum. YES, I said freshwater drum! Sure, it wasn’t walleye, but it tasted ok just the same. You do what ya gotta do to get shore lunch folks!
So, in order, I will list my favourite fish to eat at shore lunch:
- Northern Pike
- Small Mouth Bass
But enough about the fish, let’s go over everything that you need to successfully pull off a traditional shore lunch.
You will need to make the famous Chaudière Lodge Dry Dredge recipe to coat your fillets:
- You need a sturdy mid to large size plastic bag (about bread bag size), but with the strength of a freezer bag, or you will end up like me on that last shoot!
- Add flour; I usually fill the bag to a little less than a third full (If you want to go gluten-free, use an alternative flour like coconut flour, etc.)
- Add paprika; toss in just enough of this wonderful spice to slightly change your flour from white to the tiniest shade of pink.
- Add salt; about 2 tablespoons.
- Add Lawry’s Seasoned Salt; again, I put enough in to slightly change the colour of your base dredge.
- Add Garlic powder; again, about 2 tablespoons.
And there you have it, Chaudière Lodge’s famous fish dredge recipe! The great thing about this recipe is, you are not restricted to amounts or even ingredients. Add, subtract, and make it your own, lord knows mine is different every time. But keep it dry; it is far easier to transport on the water, and doesn’t foul your cooking oil as quickly as a liquid batter.
Next, the Chaudière Tartar Sauce:
Mix mayo, green relish, salt, pepper, and dill pickles chopped up fine. (Tangy dill relish is also a good alternative for actual pickles). The pickles should be almost 1/4 the volume of your mixture. (Note: Put the container of tartar into your drink cooler, it needs to stay cool).
Now, your fresh cut fries:
At Chaudière lodge, we always used large Downey Farm Potatoes. We put them through the chipper and straight into a pail of cold water, secured the lid, and they were ready for transport. Don’t blanch them, cook them straight from raw. One large handful per person is a good measure.
And last, but not least, the beans:
We can’t forget the beans! Any brand of canned beans will do, as long as they are maple flavoured; it’s not the same if they are not maple!
FULL PACKING LIST AND TOOLS
I love lists, so I have built a packing list for you to copy and print if you want. Once you get a couple of shore lunches under your belt, you can add to it, putting your own twist on it. (Like when we did fresh doughnuts in the pan for the kids, which blew their minds!)
- 1 sharp filet knife
- 1 bag of dredge/batter
- 1 big cast or steel frying pan. This can also be purchased at some of the northern grocery stores, as well as outdoor retailers. (Note: I am walking you through a traditional shore lunch using an open fire, but you may also use a propane burner and pan if you are in a fire ban situation, or in your back yard. You can even use a deep fryer in your house).
- Optional: Grill from a stove or BBQ
- A lighter or matches
- Cooking oil
- 1 pail of fresh-cut fries
- 2 spider utensils (large mesh spoon used to retrieve your fries out of the hot oil)
- 1 set of tongs and/or a BBQ fork to move, flip and remove your fillets
- 1 cardboard tray (ex. 24 pop can base)
- A roll of paper towel
- 1 large onion per 4 people
- 1 can of beans for every 4 people
- 1 can opener and a tablespoon to serve the beans from the can
- A plate and fork per person (butter knives are optional, but I find they don’t get used)
- 2 lemons
- A container of tartar sauce
- Ketchup, vinegar, salt and pepper
- 1 black garbage bag
- Use the filet knife to filet your fish boneless–northern pike especially–nothing turns your guests off faster than perfectly cooked fish, filled with bones! Wash them with fresh water, be it from a tap, or in a small net in the lake or river.
- Take your moist boneless fillets and drop them in your bag of dredge; the bag should be no more than just over half full. Now open the bag wide at the top to allow air to go into it, then close it at the top and twist it tight. (This traps air inside the bag, so the bottom half is fish and dredge and the top half is air). Begin to shake, turn the top to bottom, move around, and do a wee jig for your fans! As you can see, the air space in the bag lets the moist fillets break apart and become evenly coated.
- On to the fire pit. First, build your fire pit in an open area away from the bush, preferably on bedrock and close to a source of water. (Fires need to be put out quickly and efficiently when you are done the shore lunch). Find stones from the area, even if you have to go into the water to get them.The pit will consist of two loose rock walls, approximately 6” in height, wide enough for your pan to span from one side to the other. Once your walls are built, fit your pan level on your pit. It is important to do this before the fire is going, as you may need to add some shim stones. (Of course, old grills from a stove or BBQ are perfect to span your walls and set the pan on, but are not always available.) Build the open ends of your pit in line with the wind so it will blow through, underneath your pan, and aid the fire.Find and stockpile your wood, enough to keep you going for 45 min to an hour, depending on how many you are cooking for. Now start your fire. My saving grace when lighting my cooking fire is Spanish moss, it always has a dead dry layer on top of it and burns amazing. Heat control is key in the cooking process, so use only small dead sticks from the bush, no larger than roughly an inch or two in diameter. It will burn quickly, so when you need heat, you can build it up fast. In turn, it burns down just as fast when you need a cooler pan (again, I learned this from Billy).
- With your pit set, fire going, and pan secure as close to level as possible, add your oil. It should be about an inch and a half deep. While the oil is heating, take your pail of fresh-cut fries and dump out the water on to the ground (water and hot oil don’t mix). Always cook your fries first; they need more heat to cook, they don’t dirty your oil like the dredge/batter, and they hold their heat longest. You can tell when your oil is ready by tossing one fry into the oil, if it boils up all around it, you are ready to go! Use your tongs to put the fries into the hot oil. Fill the pan up nicely, move them around evenly, and push them under the oil to cook. Putting cold fries into the hot oil will cool the oil, so you may have to add more heat to the cooking fire.
- With your fries cooking away, dig out your cardboard tray, line it with a paper towel, and ready it for your fries. Also, peel and cut your onion into rings, using one onion per batch of fries (another Chaudière/Billy secret). The onion adds amazing flavour, it is a must-have! Head back to your pan of fries, by now they should be cooking nicely with the oil hot and boiling. Stir and evenly flip your fries bottom to top with the tongs or spiders. Watch the colour of them, and at the first hint of golden, give your fries a couple of minutes and then add the onion rings into the pan, then flatten and even everything out.
- At this point, open your canned beans and place them near the fire to warm up (note: be sure to open before heating, or the can will go boom!)
- Grab the salt and your cardboard tray. Give your golden brown fries and onions one last stir and begin to scoop them out of the pan with your spider utensils. Drain and shake as much oil back into the pan as possible during this process. It is handy to have an extra hand to hold your cardboard fry tray and salt the fries right as they are coming out of the hot oil. If you still have uncooked fries, repeat the above process until you have no more to cook.
- Now is the time to cook your fish fillets. For this process, you want your cooking oil to be a bit cooler, as your fish will cook fairly fast and we don’t want to burn it, it is the star of your show! On the flip side, if your fire has burned down too much and you need a quick burst of heat, another trick of the trade Billy taught me was to dump a little hot oil out of the pan and onto the fire. When adding your fillets to the pan, it’s important to load the pan as soon as the fries come out (if you leave an empty pan of oil on the fire, it heats really fast!). Fry with the skin side down, this prevents the fillets from curling up in the pan. Do not stray far from the pan, if at all, as the fish in the right heat will only take 3 to 5 minutes to cook. Flip your fillets once and watch them turn golden brown. Pull out the thin ones first, leaving the thicker fillets in a little longer, but don’t overcook! If they all didn’t fit in the pan, add pieces as you take the cooked ones out and add new pieces to keep a steady flow of deliciousness from one side of the pan to the other!
- When your fish, fries, and beans are ready, all you have to do is cut the lemon into wedges, pull out the tartar sauce, plus all of the other condiments, serve, and enjoy!
CLEAN UP TIME
Finally, clean up and leave no footprint.
At the lodge, we used and maintained about a half dozen sites on a constant basis, so we would stockpile dry wood there and leave our pits intact. (Note: a great trick for disposing of your used oil is to pour it on a nice sized stockpile of wood for your next cooking fire, it will burn even when it is wet). But, if you do not own the property, or will not be using it again, you need to clean up your shore lunch area and make it look like you were never there. Don’t fret, it is a pretty simple process.
- First, dispose of your oil by putting it on some punky or spongy wood. Also, pouring the oil into the fire and burning it works too, but this takes some time, which is great if you’re camping and you are going to be there for several hours or days. You can also let it cool and carry it out, but you will need to wait a substantial period of time for it to cool down enough to put into a container (unless you have a heat resistant one, BE CAREFUL!). And lastly, you can dig a small hole in topsoil in the bush and dispose of your oil there.
- Put out the fire! Please take extra care with this process, we lose countless hectares of forest and property every year as a result of reckless use of fire. Use your fry bucket/pail to put ample amounts of water on to the cooking fire, then take a stick and break apart the coals and pour more water on.
- Tear down the wall, but be careful, the rocks could still be hot!
- Gather up any garbage and load into the boat.\
Be proud of yourself! You have just created one of the most amazing culinary experiences and memories for you and your guests. They will not be able to wait to do it again and share their experience with someone else!