Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Unique American Regional Cuisine Experience - The Door County Fish Boil

DOOR COUNTY, WISCONSIN, USA -- What do you get when you cross the primitive tribal elements of a huge cast iron communal cooking pot set over a blazing raging hot fire with down home Midwest sensibility and hospitality? Answer – the Door County, Wisconsin fish boil.

What began as an economical way to feed large, hungry crowds of lumberjacks and fishermen has evolved into a bonafide culinary tourist attraction and Door County is the only place you can regularly experience it.

Steaks of delicate whitefish taken from the waters of Lake Michigan which surrounds the peninsula of Door County, along with small red potatoes, onions, and sometimes corn on the cob are placed in perforated metal baskets and lowered into heavily salted boiling water.

The “Boil Master” oversees the entire operation, stoking and feeding the wood fire under the huge black cast iron cauldron to keep the water rolling and adding the various ingredients at just the right moments to insure that everything is cooked just the right amount to retain flavor and texture.

Depending on the time of year you visit Door County, you may or may not want to stand outside to view the entire process (can you tell I experienced my fish boil in December?), but either way be sure to get everybody outside in plenty of time for the “boil over.”

For the Fish Boil's spectacular fiery finale, the Boil Master douses the already robust fire with a hefty supply of kerosene, thereby causing the eruption of a flaming volcano, which is ultimately doused by the water boiling over from the cauldron above. Aside from serving as a must-get Door County photo op for your vacation album, the boil over does serve a practical purpose. As the fish cooks, the oil from their flesh rises to the top of the cauldron. When the water boils over, it takes this layer of oil floating at the top with it, leaving food behind that’s perfectly cooked, but never greasy or oily.

Zen-like in its simplicity – the salted water during cooking and a drizzle of drawn butter at the table provide the only seasoning, the Fish Boil’s wholesome ingredients nonetheless satisfy today’s diners just as they did the working Door County residents of yesteryear.

You’ll find restaurants throughout Door County offering Fish Boils year round (although in off season, they are only offered on the weekends). Most offer a complete meal including side dishes and a slice of Door County Cherry Pie to complete your dinner, like they do at the White Gull Inn where I went for the Fish Boil experience. This elegant historic (built in 1896) hotel and restaurant in the beautiful bayside town of Fish Creek also makes a great choice as a home base for a romantic Door County getaway.

Click here for more of my articles on the fun things to do, see, and eat in Door County, Wisconsin.

Be sure to make reservations to attend a Fish Boil in advance
, especially during the high seasons of summer and fall when they frequently sell out. During the high seasons most restaurants offer several seatings per evening. Fewer restaurants offer Fish Boils in winter, and usually only on weekends so be sure to check schedules in advance to avoid disappointment.

The White Gull Inn and Restaurant
is located at 4225 Main Street in Fish Creek, WI 54212; call 920-868-3517 or visit their website at www.whitegullinn.com.

To find other restaurants offering Fish Boils
, click to the Door County Visitor’s bureau website at www.doorcounty.com/dine/fish-boils.aspx.

For trip planning, contact the Door County Visitor’s Bureau at 1015 Green Bay Rd. Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235 call 800-52-RELAX or 920-743-4456 or click to www.DoorCounty.com.

(Photo at top of post by Jon Jarosh.)

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