Of cold cans and fresh smoked fish

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Bruce Duncan

Keeping bait, food and drinks cold on the boat or in the camp-ground can be a headache but a smart approach with the chilly bin and ice will help and when it comes to turning the catch into freshly smoked dinner there is an answer for that also.

Over the hot summer months we all get to head away to the bach, camp- ground or on the boat but no matter where we go the biggest problem most of us face is keeping the bait and the beer cold for any length of time. Let’s face it, fridge space is always at a premium and to fill it with bait and cans of cleansing ale is just asking for trouble from her who must be obeyed as they often have a strange idea that the fridge was designed for storing food.  Was it not a bloke who designed the fridge, and let me guess, would he have had cold food or beer on his mind at the time?

To be fair [which is something that comes naturally to me] over the last few years there have been a lot of new chilly bins and ice boxes that have come on the market that are now at such a price that you can afford to have a couple, so we can now possibly be a bit more flexible as to what goes in the fridge.

The problem we all have when going away in summer is that even in the best ice boxes the moment you load it up the melting process starts and its only a matter of a few days and everything is thawed out and turning to mush. It will make a huge difference if you pre-chill the ice box for a couple of days before you load it up. Ideally, if you have a big enough freezer or access to one to leave it in, that is the best fix; or if not freeze down a bunch of old drink bottles. A couple of days before you are heading away load up the ice box to the top with the frozen bottles and cover the whole thing up and leave it in a cool dark room. What makes the ice melt quickly in the first place is that the insulation of the box will be warm and this will soften the ice on the sides straight away. By either freezing or cooling down the ice box like this you are bringing down the temperature of the insulation and by doing this you will extend the life of the ice. Salt ice is by far the best as it compacts down on itself leaving no air cavities as ice cubes do. Salt ice is still used today to pack down and keep fish fresh for days on commercial fishing boats.

When packing the chilly bin or ice box put a layer of ice on the bottom and then really compact it down to remove any air cavities, and now add a layer of bait topped with ice and so on, and if possible try to leave a layer of ice around the sides. What really kills the ice is the constant opening of the lid, especially once some of the bait has been used leaving a hole for warm air to fill.  A solution is to cut a piece of thick corrugated cardboard to fit on top of the ice and then put cans of drink on top. This prolongs the life of the ice and gives you a supply of cold drinks as a bonus.

A solution is to cut a piece of thick corrugated cardboard to fit on top of the ice and then put cans of drink on top.

When cleaning the chilly bin don’t just tip out the old ice and water from the bottom of the ice box. This makes the perfect ice slurry to put your fish in once they have been killed.

I must admit that summer does have a bit of an effect on us blokes as it seems to bring out a lot more of the Neanderthal man so we tend to go off hunting and gathering and wandering further  away from the cave, which is not a bad thing I might add. With all this wandering around we tend to get a bit of a hunger on and the need to have a regular graze is high on the list of priorities for the day. Being basically lazy at heart the idea of organizing a big feed is generally over-ridden by a quick, easy fix - and this is not a bad thing I might add. With your catch of the day being in prime condition having been quickly killed and kept on ice, it is now best cooked and eaten with the minimum of fuss to retain the freshness and flavour.

A 4kg snapper is the perfect size for the smoker

Back in the good old days before the invention of DOC when we could go around whacking the odd dinosaur on the head then dragging it back to the cave or to the beach for a carve up and cooking the carcass, it was a fairly basic affair with it being grilled or smoked over a good old fire. Then came along progress with this new fan-dangled thing called electricity and buggered up the art of ‘bloke cooking’.

Then came along progress with this new fan-dangled thing called electricity and buggered up the art of ‘bloke cooking’.

The problem we have today is that that we cannot have an open fire within three hundred miles of humanity and only then if we have put in two years of permit gathering and have three fire trucks on standby. So to get that good old back-to-basics smoked flavour in your food can be a bit of a problem these days, but where there is a will there is always a way. A product I like from back in the day is is the stove top smoker.

It’s a pretty simple affair that only requires 1-1½ table spoons of wood chips that are placed on the bottom of the smoker, and a rack above holding the food. With the lid in place the heat generated from bellow smolders the wood chips and the heat and smoke then basically cooks and smokes the food by way of convection, with only a tiny bit of smoke escaping from around the lid. This form of convection cooking/smoking is very quick, simple and clean and can be used for all manner of food such as chicken, sausages and cuts of meat.

A larger size stovetop smoker can even be used to cook mussels and smaller crayfish by using a little bit of salt water in it rather than wood chips. Being small and flat it stows out of the way and has become an essential part of my boating as it is just so quick and easy to use, and being able to have a quick graze of what I have just pulled out of the sea it adds a new dimension to the meaning of fresh seafood.

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