IS YOUR FAVORITE WILDLIFE RECIPE?
January 23, 2011
Q. I have
recently seen recipes for sandhill cranes and lionfish. What is your favorite
A. Some of
the simplest recipes can result in some of the tastiest food. A restaurant
experience I had qualifies for the simple feature and, if you like grease
and salt, probably the tasty part, too. One summer I worked at a resort
in Colorado along with a dozen other college kids from various universities.
I was a cook in the resort's restaurant and got pretty good at broiling
steaks, making salads, and cooking potatoes in various ways.
were the most commonly requested potatoes, so we kept a hot vat of boiling
grease at the ready. We also cooked a lot of rainbow trout and had plenty
of pans of cornmeal ready for action. Because this was a major trout fishing
region, anglers could bring in their fresh catch for us to clean, fry,
I got rather
efficient at cleaning fish and cooking them, but after serving up a total
of 212 rainbow trout, as the receipts later showed, between midmorning
and nightfall on July Fourth, I was a bit weary of it. Also, I realized
I had not eaten a meal since breakfast. and I was hungry. But you can
bet I was not going to dine on trout.
As I was
taking my apron off to let the arriving night shift of students take over,
a fisherman came up to what we called the fish counter with a six-pound
rainbow. He was proud of his catch. Though I was tired of looking at fish,
especially one that big, I told him I would take care of it.
As he departed
to join his group in the dining room, leaving his fish to be cleaned,
I noticed he had also left his cardboard bait container. I was curious
about what had been so attractive to all these fish during the day and
peeked in the box. Crawling around inside were a dozen or so hellgrammites,
the fat, dark-colored larvae of a big, intimidating insect known as the
dobsonfly. Each hellgrammite was about two or three inches long and used
its three pairs of legs to work its way through the dirt. They are considered
ideal fish bait.
are impressive creatures. Males can be almost five inches long with a
six-inch wingspan and pincers an inch long, though the male's pincers
are mostly for show. Females have shorter ones that can really pinch.
sure what possessed me, but I took a half dozen of the hellgrammites in
hand and rinsed them thoroughly (hence my wildlife recipe starts, "rinse
live hellgrammites thoroughly under clean running water"). I watched
them crawl around in my hand for a minute and then dropped them into one
of the pans of corn meal. They kept crawling, through the corn meal, under
the corn meal, all around in the corn meal until they were coated. I remember
thinking how nice it would be if fish breaded themselves like hellgrammites
do. After two minutes of watching them crawl, I put them in the wire basket
normally reserved for raw potato strips.
Let it be
known that the hellgrammites did not suffer. Their lives were snuffed
out within a quick sizzle of hitting the hot grease. And they cooked a
lot quicker than potatoes. But with weeks of training in how to burn various
kinds of food, I recognized the symptoms of overcooking and got them out
onto a paper towel while they were still a crispy golden brown. Salt seemed
important and was added in quantity.
are best eaten by hand, like fried chicken or barbecued ribs, with or
without hushpuppies. I can honestly say they were as good as most other
salty fried foods. The other students and I did not tell the restaurant
owner about our new recipe, and the fishermen in that part of Colorado
are probably still feeding hellgrammites to trout rather than eating them
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