I visited Door County, Wisconsin, a couple weekends ago for a lovely family reunion. I had to take premature exit to attend to other family matters back home in NYC, but was able, during my whirlwind, 30-hour stay in one of the nation's friendliest states, to visit Washington Island and enjoy a most unique dinner at Pelletier's in Fish Creek. There is a tradition/tourist attraction in these parts of an impressively theatrical "fish boil," which marries a local delicacy, whitefish, and the universal attraction of big fire. There are several restaurants in Door County--a lovely vacation destination of families throughout the upper Midwest--that specialize in this "ya-gotta-see-it-to-believe-it" ritual.
There are several explanations attempting to pinpoint the origin of this dazzling technique of whitefish preparation, but the modern fish boil presents to its hungry audience the process of submerging fish, potatoes, and onion in salty water, all boiling vigorously over a wood flame in a witch's cauldron. At a certain point, kerosene is thrown on the flame licking up the sides of the pot in which dinner boils away.
Suddenly, an enormous flame engulfs the vessel, and the impurities and scum atop the boiling dinner spill over and are scraped away, turning to steam in the violent bonfire beneath. The process is chaotic, and cynical souls may question the utility of such pyrotechnic showbiz, but I can honestly declare that the result of all this production is impressive. I am such a cynical soul, and, quite frankly, the prospect of boiled fish and potatoes roused my palate not a whit, but--and the liberal accompaniment of butter and salt must be taken into account--the entire meal, this resolutely pale trio of boiled whitefish, potatoes and onions, was delicious. The waitstaff at Pelletier's was more than happy to help with bone removal. (Advice: if you choke on a fish bone, just eat a piece of spongy white bread, and the whole she-bang will slip down your throat, end of story.) The dessert of all-American cherry pie was completely satisfying. (À la mode is extra, hon.)