A Fish Story (September 22, 2003)
"I never cook with anything I wouldn't drink," says Art. A
pause for reflection and then he adds, "But, then, I drink anything."
Art and I are in a boat on Westbury Lake in northern Saskatchewan, about
200 kilometres from the Northwest Territories border. Our guide, Rob,
is looking disgusted because we're talking wine and food. He's used to
conversations about tackle, lures, outboard motors and pike as big as
Rob's contribution to the culinary discussion is a suggestion that we
spray our lures with WD40. The sweetness, he says, will attract the fish.
I ask him what was the weirdest thing he has ever used to catch a fish.
"I once wrapped a marshmallow in cheesecloth," he says, "It
worked for speckleds." Art recalls a guide who welded a hook to a
car spark plug and swore by it. Chacun à son gout.
We are on our annual fishing trip, six guys who have fished together
for years. We're looking forward to shore lunch because today Steve is
cooking, on an open fire, what he calls Doré Provençale
||Steve, the chef, enjoys a glass of champagne while cooking shore
This is something else that makes Rob and the other guides roll their
eyes. Our shore lunches last three hours and involve the ritual consumption
of three bottles of wine out of plastic glasses. (With the Doré
a.k.a. pickerel or walleye we will consume two bottles of
Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 1999 and a bottle of Dauvissat Chablis Les Clos
1998. With the Cajun Blackened Lake Trout tomorrow we will have a bottle
of Pommery Champagne followed by two vintages of Camus Chambertin, 1995
and 1996. Friday's menu is Chinese style fish with... but I digress.)
Don't get the idea that we are not serious fishermen. In the eight days
at the fishing lodge we will spend eight hours a day on the lake with
our rods in the water. We fish for lake trout and walleye and pike and
grayling so that we can have gourmet meals in the bush. (It's catch and
release with barbless hooks.)
In order to make these annual piscatorial pilgrimages to Canada's northland
happen each of us has our duties. Steve is the quartermaster who brings
all the food we need plus the sauces, spices, home-made pates, etc. Sam
has a great cellar and he brings the wine. Leo makes the Bloody Marys
before dinner back at the lodge. He also brings the worms. Harold, who
comes up from Sarasota, Florida, brings the malt whisky. Art brings his
wife's fantastic biscotti. And I, well I am the historian/sommelier who
records what we eat and what we drink in case there are disputes over
the condition of the vintage port which we don't have at shore lunch but
reserve for dinner because we need to decant it.
If future archaeologists dig in Northern Saskatchewan they will be very
puzzled indeed. How did New Zealand green lip mussel shells come to be
there? And corks branded with Egon Muller Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett
2000, Dauvissat Chablis Vaillons 1999 and Highfield Estate Elstree Chardonnay
1996 from New Zealand? They might even find a can that contained lobster.
That, along with the New Zealand mussels, frozen scallops and shrimps,
is going into the Bouillabaisse Steve made in a huge wok on the camp fire.
Plus, of course, fresh fish we caught that morning. It was as good as
anything you'll find in Marseilles and the entire lodge staff vied to
attend that lunch. The accompanying wines were Pommery Champagne, Dauvissat
Chalis Les Clos 1996 and Jaboulet Domaine Saint-Pierre Cornas 1998.
When we told a dentist from Chicago who was fishing for pike with his
two sons that we had brought up canned lobster for the Bouillabaisse,
he wondered aloud, "Aren't you guys meant to be roughing it?"
Well, yes. After all, the lobster wasn't fresh.
What, you may ask, are the impediments to drinking fine wine under the
Jack pines on rocky, remote islands? Well, there are the bugs and the
mosquitoes, so now I know how brides feel on their wedding day. Drinking
wine through a bug jacket must be like wearing a veil, but it's worth
it. And I'm here to tell you that Camus Chambertin 1996 goes brilliantly
with beer-battered lake trout. And saving your presence, Mr. Riedel, great
wines taste just fine out of plastic glasses but, then, a fine
wine would taste terrific out of a Wellington boot.
Afterthought: This year I hooked the Moby Dick of lake trout. I played
him for 45 minutes but he broke my line without me ever getting a glimpse
of him. Ah well, there's always shore lunch.