Sunday, December 02, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: Wisconsin I - Something's fishy in the State of Badgers

Of all the regions of the country I have learned about over the past two years of this project, the final one I ever started to tackle was the Midwest.  That's no surprise, since I've been doing this alphabetically and "Illinois" is the first Midwestern state in ABC order.  So it's also no surprise that the Midwest is one of the last regions I tackle, and it all comes back to Cheesehead country (not meant derogatorily, Wisco).

Official Name: State of Wisconsin
State Nickname: The Badger State
Admission to the US: May 29, 1848 (30th)
Capital: Madison (2nd largest)
Other Important Cities: Milwaukee (largest), Green Bay (3rd largest), Kenosha (4th largest), Racine (5th largest)
Region: Midwest, Upper Midwest, Great Lakes; East North Central (US Census)
RAFT NationsWild Rice
Bordered by: Minnesota (west); Lake Superior (northwest); Michigan (upper panhandle) (northeast); Lake Michigan (east); Illinois (south); Iowa (southwest)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: badger (animal, though these aren't typically eaten anymore); corn (grain); dairy cow (domesticated animal); honeybee (insect, for the honey); milk (beverage); muskellunge, or "muskie" (fish); sugar maple (tree, for the maple sap); white-tailed deer (wildlife animal)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: typical Midwestern cuisine; German, Central European and Scandinavian foods; dairy, especially cheese and fried cheese curds; Wisconsin-style fish boil (usually done on a massive scale for many people); beer brats (bratwurst cooked in beer and grilled, usually on a "Sheboygan roll", a typical bratwurst roll from Midwest); beer, beer and more beer

In Wisconsin, you will find the typical Midwestern (specifically upper Midwestern) foods - especially foods of the German, Eastern European, Scandinavian and Great Lakes Native American variety.  What specifically is Wisco known for?  From my investigations, a few things:

* cheese - Wisconsin is noted for its cheese production.  According to the Wisconsin Cheese website [2012], Wisconsinites have been making the delicious stuff for well over 150 years: "Today, Wisconsin produces more than 600 varieties, types and styles of American, international-style and original cheeses that win more awards than any other state or country" [Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board 2012].
* beer - The Wisconsin Historical Society [2012] notes that before the Civil War there were over 160 breweries in the state.  America's favorite historical brands, from Schlitz to Pabst Blue Ribbon to Miller (okay, not my favorite but still) have also been joined by many craft breweries as well [Wisconsin Brewers Guild 2012]
* brats - I explored bratwurst back when I did my Ohio posts.  My Columbus-born friend Eric told me all about how they made brats back in the Buckeye State, and I gave him some new info about sauerkraut balls, which are basically fried balls of bratwurst and drained sauerkraut.  Still, Wisconsinites will swear up and down that it is Wisconsin, not Ohio, that is America's bratwurst heartland.  Just go to the self-proclaimed world capital of bratwurst: Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

So cheese, beer and brats (all of which will be featured at some point in the next few posts).  Is that all that Wisconsin cuisine is about?  Of course not, though it is the most famous stuff, and not really anything to shake a stick at.  There is also the famous Midwestern fish boil.

Okay, before all my Mid-Atlantic readers start retching - in the Chesapeake we would never even think of boiling seafood, much less actually do it - I have to point out that in the Upper Midwest (specifically in heavily Scandinavian-American areas) this fish boil thing is a big community activity.  And the TV show Door County TODAY gives a little historical background for the fish boil, interviewing Dan Peterson of the Viking Grill, which first commercialized the fish boil in 1959 before other restaurants started to do the same [Door County Today 2012]

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As the video shows, these fish boilers in Wisconsin's easternmost county use Lake Michigan white fish, along with a large amount of salt which doesn't make the fish very salty.  This is added after the potatoes, but after the sweet onions.

I didn't follow the procedure shared in the video, instead opting for an actual written-down recipe.  Enter Midwest Living, which gives an easy-to-follow fish boil recipe that will feed many, many people [2012].  Seriously: this recipe makes 16 servings.  The problem is that I don't have many, many people to feed.  So I had to quarter this recipe, and I still had to use my crab pot to do so.  I also did not have a basket like the one fish boilers typically use, so I hit Bed, Bath and Beyond with my 20% off coupon to find something that might work.  The closest thing I could find was a pretty large and sturdy 5 quart colander that in the end just barely held all of the fish and vegetables.

The Recipe: Wisconsin Fish Boil

For your own way-scaled down Wisconsin-style fish boil, assemble your colander, a massive crab or lobster pot, a few gallons of water and the following ingredients:

* some sort of white fish (I bought a fairly cheap and easily found 2 lb bag of frozen whiting fillets at Wegman's for just a few bucks.  I used most of the bag)
* baby carrots (a pound bag of them for about $4 at Wegman's)
* red potatoes (about a dollar)
* onions (even less)
* kosher salt (for the water)

For the Dijon butter sauce (couldn't you just say that all day?) also get these ingredients together:

* butter (had it)
* Dijon mustard (same)
* fresh parsley (on my porch - the recipe says you can use this or dill)

Start by boiling about 10 to 12 quarts of water in a crab pot (with the math for the original recipe, I had originally planned on using about 8 quarts, but I needed enough to cover the fish, and that wasn't doin' it).

Add the salt - you will need what seems like an inordinate amount, but this is a lot of water.

Find a book to read or something.  It didn't even come close to boiling until about 45 minutes later.

Add all of your vegetables when it starts to boil.

Boil these for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Next, add your (thawed or microwave defrosted) fish to the pot.

Cover the pot and let it cook for another 8 to 10 minutes.

While that's going on, prepare your Dijon butter sauce.  Just add everything to a small saucepan.

Once the butter is melted, whisk until blended.

When done, remove the steamer basket from the crab pot, and find some way to empty all that water without dousing yourself or the kitchen.

As noted before, in the Chesapeake we don't boil seafood that often.  This is a nice, hearty fish and vegetable dish that is simple and tasty.  Paired with this rich sauce, which you could make just on its own for whatever, it's good eatin'.


Beer Institute.  "State Per Capita Consumption 2003 to 2011" (PDF available).  Copyright 2012, All rights reserved.

Bostwick, William & Jessi Rymill.  Beer Craft: A Simple Guide to Making Great Beer.  Rodale: New York, 2011.

Bratwurst Pages.  "Classic Wisconsin Beer Brats".  Bratwurst Pages, 2003.  Copyright 2002, 2003 Bratwurst Pages, All rights reserved.

Croswell, Jonathan.  "How to Cook a Bratwurst in the Oven".  Livestrong, 2011.  Copyright 2011, 2012, All rights reserved.

Door County Today (YouTube channel: DoorCounty Today).  "History of the Door County Fish Boil".  Posted March 15, 2012.

Fisher, Joe and Dennis.  "Wild, Wild Rice!"  Brew Your Own, October 2000.

Fulton, April.  "Will Beer And Brats Break Through Wisconsin's Partisan Divide?"  The Salt: What's on Your Plate.  Posted June 12, 2012.  Copyright 2012 National Public Radio, All rights reserved.

Midwest Living.  "Wisconsin Fish Boil".  Midwest Living, 2012.  Copyright 2012 Meredith Corporation, All rights reserved.

Mr. Beer.  "Instructions, Premium/Deluxe Editions".  Copyright 2011 Catalina Products LLC, All rights reserved.

Spencer, James, and Steve Wilkes (YouTube channel: basicbrewing). "Basic Brewing Video - Doctoring Mr. Beer - January 7, 2012".  Posted January 7, 2012.

Splendid Table.  "Episode 487: The Japanese Grill", July 30, 2011, Segment 21:46 – 28:35 (William Bostwick talks home brewing).  Copyright 2011, 2012 American Public Media, All rights reserved.

Vics, Drew (YouTube channel: Cryptobrewology).  "Brewing Mr. Beer American Devil IPA".  Posted January 25, 2010.

Wisconsin Brewer's Guild.  "Wisconsin Brewer's Guild".  Copyright 2009-2012, All rights reserved.

Wisconsin Historical Society.  "Dictionary of Wisconsin History: Pabst Blue Ribbon beer advertisement, 1940 (WHi-56371)".  Copyright 1996-2012, All rights reserved.

Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.  "Cookin' Up Wisconsin Curds".  Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, 2012.  Copyright 2012, All rights reserved.

Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.  "History of Wisconsin Cheese".  Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, 2012.  Copyright 2012, All rights reserved.
Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Wisconsin" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Wisconsin".