This is not Charles Carter or anyone I know, yet it gives you the idea of how large a pike can get. More fish than two people can eat at one sitting. They are fished in the spring in lakes throughout New England. While going through Charles Carter’s “The Complete Practical Cook,” I found this receipt. It was interesting because he uses a spit to cook it and places planks on either side of the fish to hold all the goodies in the belly. The receipt is long and loaded with ingredients including several eels and a smaller fish. Well, right now it is hard to get eels, as they are being caught illegally here in NH and shipped to Japan for lots of money so the game wardens are out looking for anyone catching them. Also they are not my favorite.
Now I have done planked fish many times, always putting it on a single cedar plank and standing it on the side of the fireplace, near enough to get cooked from the heat while preparing other items. So Carter’s receipt piqued my interest, as he used wooden splits.
So I have the receipt and now I need a fish. Well, a pike is out of the question as I don’t fish anymore and the local grocery store does not carry them. However, I knew that I could get a pollock with its head and tail on at Seaport Fish in Rye, New Hampshire. I only needed to order it. So I did.
Along with my other hearth cooking stash in the basement I found two new cedar planks. They need to be in a water bath for at least a few hours, and best overnight. This way they won’t catch on fire and ruin my fish. I put the planks in my tin kettle and turned them every few hours of so.
Reading over Carter’s receipt I decided to omit the eels and another fish for the forcing. What I did pick were salt, nutmeg, ginger, thyme, parsley, oysters, anchovies, shallots and horseradish and butter mixed with bread crumbs and an egg and then forced them in the belly.
After filling the belly, Carter says, “Broach it on a spit and with some lathes or wooden splits, flatten it, tying them round with tape to keep it all together and lay it to a pretty good fire.”
With the fish clapped in cedar and tied on the spit, it needed to be bathed with thick butter, white wine and a little vinegar that has some onion and sweet herbs mixed in. Bathe it often and turn it. A leer was made with grated horseradish and beaten ginger, wine and some anchovies to be added to the drippings later.
This is where things started to unravel. The string caught fire and the planks were just too wide. Time to reread the receipt!!! So I read it again, and Carter says—“then broach it on a Spit, and with some Lathes or wooden Splits, faften it, tying them round with some Tape to keep it all together.”
Now had I not been concentrating on the ingredients so hard, and spent more time reading the how to, I would have known that Lathes and or wooden Splits should be only about two inches wide and spaced around the fish so the heat gets through to the flesh. My only excuse is that I was testing out three other receipts. So live and learn and take my own advice: read the receipt through and then reread it. So, off it came and placed on the table to be restrung without the wood and cooked the final minutes to doneness.
Altogether it took about forty minutes to bake in front of the fire, and then it was placed on a plate and the spit removed and the pudding in the belly draw out. The drippings were added to the leer to make a sauce to be mingled with the pudding. To garnish I skipped the eels and placed the receipt’s broiled oysters and lemon round it.
The fish was very moist and the stuffing passable. It was a big fish and there was a lot left over so it looks like fish chowder next.
This is the first early receipt I have found that calls for planking and I will try it again, with smaller lathes.
“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
― Julia Child