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A plate of fish, potatoes, onions, and coleslaw.

Fish boil--boiled fish, potatoes, and onions, served with coleslaw and bread--is an outdoor tradition similar to the clam bake.

Upper Great Lakes fish boil

Tips for making the tasty tradition

From eNews, June 12, 2008

The fish boil has been a Great Lakes tradition for more than 100 years. Scandinavians brought the custom to the early settlements around Lake Michigan, where whitefish and lake trout were plentiful and it was easy to prepare a meal outdoors by boiling fish, potatoes, and onions together in a large pot.

The fish boil is the Great Lakes' answer to the New England clambake, and you can find them in any number of coastal villages on the Upper Great Lakes on a summer or fall evening. There is usually a festive atmosphere as guests mingle in line and share picnic tables, often to the sound of live entertainment or music.

Preparing the fish

Although lake trout and whitefish are traditional choices, other trout or salmon may be used. You'll need about three-fourths of a pound of fish per person. Remove the large scales on salmon and trout. Remove the head and fins. Slit the whole fish from vent to gills and remove the internal organs, including the kidney (the dark material along the backbone). Cut the fish into cross-sectional pieces two to three inches thick. (Frozen fish may also be used. Cut it into chunks before it thaws completely.)

Preparing the other ingredients

Potatoes: Allow two potatoes (preferably new red potatoes) per person. Select or cut potatoes so they're uniform in size. Wash but don't peel them. Remove a slice from each end so the seasoning penetrates better.

Onions: Allow one medium-size whole onion, peeled, per person.

Salt: Use about a quarter cup of salt per pound of fish (one pound of salt for every six pounds of fish).

Seasoning: Use a cheese cloth to make a seasoning packet containing bay leaves, whole allspice, and peppercorns in roughly equal proportions. (You could also add herbs or spices of your own.) To feed 10 people, the seasoning packet should be about the size of a golf ball. Water: Use a gallon of water for every two and a half to three pounds of fish.

Condiments: Prepare melted butter and fresh parsley for the potatoes, and lemon wedges for use on the fish.

Cooking instructions

A blackened cast-iron kettle remains the standard cooking utensil, but stainless steel and aluminum pots are becoming more popular because they are so readily available.

Add half of the salt to the water and bring it to a rolling boil, allowing it to return to a full boil after each ingredient. Place the potatoes and seasoning in a large wire basket and lower it into the water; boil for eight to 10 minutes. Add onions; boil for another two to four minutes. Add the rest of the salt; lower the fish in a smaller wire basket into the water, and boil for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily.

Add a pint of kerosene to the fire. (Then jump back quickly and keep the kids away.) As flames shoot skyward, the flash of heat causes an overboil, flushing the froth from the surface of the churning water. Remove and drain both baskets. (You could omit the overboil if you skim the froth off before removing the baskets).

Serve the meal with coleslaw and bread.

For more fish-related tips, see Minnesota Sea Grant.