While most of Wisconsin is familiar with the fish fry, residents of Door County opt for fiery, explosive “fish boils.”
Local began the ritual to collect oils from the fish they caught on Lake Michigan. In the 1600s, Scandinavian settlers and members of the Potowatomi tribe first encountered one another in the territory. Opinions conflict as to which group began the tradition. Over time, fish boils evolved into an easy means of feeding the hoards of loggers and fishermen who settled in the area.
Today, fish boils exist for recreation and tourism. A head cook, or boilmaster, puts on a show that ends in a fiery inferno and a fishy buffet. First, the cook adds half a pound of salt per gallon of water to the pot. (This helps force fish oils to the surface during the boil.) Quartered onions, red potatoes, and whitefish are added in intervals.
After close to ten minutes of boiling, the officiant yells “boilover!” before chucking kerosene on the flames. The temperature spike creates a pyrotechnic fireball that forces grease, oil, and water over the pot’s edges and onto the ground. Clean, lean fish emerges. Guests promptly negate the “lean” element by dousing their portions in lemon juice and melted butter.
Where to Try It
This Door County restaurant begins their nightly fish boil at 4:30 p.m. every evening.