Posted on Sat, July 21, 2012 by Slow Food USA
3 Comments | Categories: Biodiversity, Cooking, Film/TV/Radio,
Written by Slow Food USA Associate Director of National Programs, Angelines M. Alba Lamb
If you ever find yourself driving up the Bronx River Parkway in New York City on a weekend evening after 6pm, try to make a detour off the 233rd Street exit. If you eat meat, I promise you won’t be disappointed. A crew of Trinidadian men set-up two smokers and a variety of grills and cook jerked chicken, pork, beef, and fish until dawn, relying on the after-party crowd to flood the block despite the early hour. The food is deceptively simple and delicious. Relying on family recipes and pure instinct for flavor these men carry on a tradition that spans all if not most cultures, ethnicities, nations, and families: cooking outdoors.
Outdoor cooking is most celebrated here in the U.S, during the summer. We’re encouraged to buy grills for our fathers on Father’s Day, are accosted by displays of hot dog and hamburger buns every time we enter a grocery store, and doesn’t it seem like every national holiday or birthday is celebrated with a BBQ? But there is more to outdoor cooking than just barbecue and $500 grills.
On the banks of Lake Michigan, and throughout Wisconsin, the fish boil and shore lunches dominate over outdoor BBQs. The celebrated fish boil is thought to have started more than 100 years ago with the Scandinavian immigrants working on the fishing boats of the Great Lakes. Cooking freshly caught fish in a cauldron of boiling water on the deck of their ships was a quick and cheap way to feed themselves. According to this video segment from Door County TODAY (also below), the first commercial fish boil occurred at the Viking Grill in Ellison Bay in 1960. The Lake Michigan Whitefish – boarded to Slow Food’s Ark of Taste by Wisconsin Slow Food leaders and spearheaded by Leah Caplan—is traditionally used in the fish boil, seasoned with only salt and sometimes onions. Salted water is brought to a boil in an outdoor cauldron and once those bubbles start popping, the potatoes are thrown in. Soon after the cut up fish is added for 8-10 minutes and is spectacularly finished off by adding kerosene to the fire, causing the water to boil over.
The Lake Michigan Whitefish has a long been the star ingredient in outdoor cook-outs. The original inhabitants of the Great Lakes, including the Odawa, Ojibwa, and Bodowadomi First Nations caught the fish and cooked them over fires along the beaches of Lake Michigan. This aquatic food source was one of the first items to be traded with the first European colonizers and remains an important aspect of local indigenous culture and heritage. Unfortunately populations have been severely impacted by invasive, non-native species, overfishing, and other human activities. Through the efforts of local food activists, First Nation peoples, and environmentalists, the Whitefish has a fighting chance to grow their numbers. Programs like the Ark of Taste raises awareness about endangered foods and traditions and creates a demand for increased safeguards that will allow future generations to enjoy what past ones have.
As you find yourself moving the fire from inside to out, spend some time thinking about your own families’ and your regions food culture. Is there a technique that is unique to where you live or where you come from? Is there a chicken or clam that is native to your area that you can substitute? Are there seasonings used in your or your parent’s homeland that can be used instead of the premade mix on the shelf?
Need some help finding local foods? Check out our Ark of Taste for ideas, sources, and products.
What’s your outdoor cooking culture? Share your stories in the comment section!