Dining outdoors has become mainstream in the Covid era... maybe we're trendsetters.
It is well known, and often remarked, that food prepared or served in the great outdoors tastes remarkably better than nourishment taken in domestic confines. It should be noted that pulling a passionate angler away from the stream takes temptation greater than a vintage "Slim Jim" or soggy PBJ sandwich.
Experienced river guides know that a well-presented midday meal can erase the memory of an unsuccessful morning and reestablish optimism for the remainder of the day. By providing clients with a scrumptious feast, the chances of successfully landing a sizable fish and/or gratuity increase dramatically. A well-fuel angler is focused and, as such, more successful. In addition, they tend to be far less irritable, no matter how poor the fishing or how hard the rain falls.
Some anglers have progressed to the stage where fishing is just an excuse to eat like royalty while enjoying the beauty of their surroundings and sharing the experience with friends. To them, the shore lunch is an art form and a welcome break from the solitude of angling. It is a chance to share stories and observations while recharging batteries and warming cold feet.
Matching the meal to the day and participants is in itself a creative endeavor requiring hours of pre-planning or 2-minutes standing in front of the refrigerator, looking at the collection of leftovers, choosing hot meals for cold days, and cool offerings when the sun sizzles like chicken fajitas. I love the more comfortable days of fall, winter, and spring when I can exercise my blossoming culinary skills, pulling out the latest gadget from the Kitchen Company in Grants Pass or leaning on my tried and true Skottle to leave a lasting impression on my angling guests.
Over the years, I have mastered the art of scaling my equipment requirements to the transportation mode being engaged for the day. If plying the waters in my drift boat or road fishing in the 4Runner, the options are endless; the Skottle, camp stove, barbecue, and Coleman oven make the dining possibilities only limited by the imagination. While somewhat more minimalist, hiking in on the Metolius or drifting the wild rivers of BC in a Water Master does not preclude a warm meal at the noon hour. For these occasions, my ever-present Jet Boil provides enough BTUs for hot soup, toasted sandwiches, and a thawing beverage.
Yet, these tools of the trade are nothing but dead weight if the food being prepared lacks that certain Je ne sais quoi expected from the overall experience of dining streamside. One must have the right ingredients, balanced with proven accompaniments if expectations are to be met. Having broken bread at many shore lunch tables, I can say that our collection of guide and outfitter friends have mastered the details and hopefully will forgive me if I accidentally pass on some of their secrets in the following suggestions.
I shall lead off with what we have come to call the Wheeler Melt, a toasted sandwich of cheesy goodness prepared in a panini press made famous by, I believe, Marty and Mia Sheppard of Little Creek Outfitters. While this might not be their crowning camp kitchen achievement, their adoption of this utilitarian implement trickled down to own Nick Wheeler, whose previous chef skills were limited to boiling hotdogs in his Jet Boil or serving toasted marshmallows on a bed of Skittles. Nick has apprenticed under the watchful eye of our master chef and Fly Czar, Josh Linn, to expand his menu and branched off to a variety of cheese, meat, and bread options. At some point, we fully expect Nick to pen a cookbook documenting his rise to sandwich mastery.
A toasted sandwich is a great start, but adding a bowl of hot soup takes it to the next level and warms frozen appendages from the inside out. Brian Silvey is the master of soup when the cold winds blow down the Sandy River, adding a collection of gourmet cheeses, sliced meats, and chips to supplement and sustain. He also offers firey condiments to spice up the simple sandwiches, finding the added heat warms his guests and keeps hypothermia at bay. Brian's soup menu changes with the season and the particular offerings from his supplier. Be warned, do not try to order off-menu, or you'll hear those terrifying words, "no soup for you!"
At this point, I am impressed that you've stayed with this winding, good-natured dissertation on the relatively boring subject of shore lunch. I will leave you with my recipe for those sizzling chicken fajitas I mentioned earlier to reward you for your commitment. While I prefer to prepare this meal in the aforementioned Skottle, an oversize skillet will suffice.
Trader Joes Chile Lime Seasoning Blend
- Penzey's Fajita Blend
One large Onion
One Red Pepper
One Yellow Pepper
One Orange Pepper
2-Pounds Chicken Breasts
Shredded Mexican Cheese
Cholula Chili Lime Hot Sauce
Cut Chicken into small strips and place in a gallon freezer bag with 1/4 cup olive oil, and a healthy dash of Chile Lime and Fajita spice to marinade. Mix well and keep cold until ready to cook.
Chop Onions and slice peppers.
Preheat Skottle and add a splash of Olive Oil.
Add Chicken on top of the onions to keep it from sticking to the Skottle until the juices flow and cook until it won't kill you, adding more Chile Lime/Fajita Spice to flavor.
When the Chicken looks like it needs about 5-minutes more, add the peppers and mix it all up.
Serve hot on warm tortillas, adding cheese, fresh avocado, and Cholula sauce or salsa.
Now, take a nap and wait for the sun to go off the water.