Not all children love fish, even if their parents go to great lengths to feed them a variety of healthy foods. One way to make fish more appealing to kids is to cook it over an outdoor fire. In this third post in our four-part series on outdoor cooking, we’ll talk about how to make a fish basket that you and your kids will love.
Before you start cooking an outdoor meal, all your equipment needs to be accessible. (You don’t want to be running indoors while the fire is going.) Here’s some basic equipment to have on hand. Gather what you can in a box or bin so that you can easily pull it out or transport it when cooking outside on the farm or if you go camping.
- thick, leather campfire gloves that reach up your arm
- matches, flint and steel, or blow torch (for lighting the fire)
- long spatula
- strong tongs
- long fork or other turning tool
- fire bricks (to set up the grill, create a trivet for your grill or create a small cooking area within the coals)
- veggie or fish baskets
- bucket of water
- shovels (small one to move coals and big one to cover the fire when finished)
- marshmallow/hot dog tongs
- bellows or leaf blower (to blow the fire)
- cast iron cookware (all sizes and types)
- high-heat cooking oil
- different-size grills
Making Your Fish Basket
I keep an engineer—my handsome husband—on staff and put him in charge of all things construction. While I prep the fish, he and the kids make willow baskets to cook the fish in. (You can also use a commercial fish basket or a wooden plank, but they’re not nearly as fun as the homemade versions.)
To make a serviceable fish basket, don’t sweat it too much! Just use lots of binding or even wire to keep your basket together, and it will last long enough to cook your fish. If not, you can all have a good laugh, scrape the fish out of the fire and go get a cast iron pan to fry up your salmon.
Find two medium-sized willow branches of that have two to three smaller branches coming off of them at about the same place. Willow trees are branchy, so search around until you find what you need. If you can’t find any, use several individual pliable branches; these first branches will form the body of your basket so make them sturdy but still green and easy to bend. Then have the kids find an armful of smaller, pliable branches for weaving.
Lay out one branch so that it lays flat on the ground. Decide how long you want your basket to be and trim your branches to that length plus an additional inch or so.
Bind any loose ends together; use any kind of string, sinew or reed to securely wrap the end of your basket so that any loose branches are tight together. This will form a bow shape so that your basket will look like a leaky canoe.
Take your loose, smaller branches and begin to weave them one by one into the canoe-shaped frame you’ve just created. Use a basic over-under weave—it doesn’t need to be fancy. Clip any ends that are unruly or sticking out as you weave. This is a great job for younger children because they have smaller fingers that can work quickly.
Repeat steps 2 to 4 to create a second canoe-shaped basket with the other set of branches. You could also have a fish-basket-building race with two teams: Dad and The Littles vs. The Teenagers. Tell us who wins!
Place the fish inside one basket and then secure the other basket on top, like a lid. Simply tie a sturdy knot at either end to connect them. I think my smarty pants husband actually created a hinge of some kind on one end—he’s the most clever man I know. If you’re like me and are just barely making something serviceable, use whatever you have on hand to lash the baskets together.
Place your fish basket over a low flame or hot coals. Cook, turning the basket carefully every few minutes.
Make sure you have an awesome conversation with your kids about how traditional island people cook their fish this way. You could also talk about how Native Americans would use this and other methods to smoke their fish to preserve it for later use. Have the kiddos forage in your garden and even among your weeds for some salad stuff to have with your salmon—don’t forget the edible flowers!
You may not even end up with leftovers of your fish because when it’s cooked this way it’s flaky and smoky flavored and one of the yummiest things you will ever put in your mouth. Be sure to cook your fish with homegrown herbs and fresh garlic; you can place all that inside the basket with your fish or you can marinate it ahead of time. Do you and your kids catch your own fish? I guarantee, that will taste even better!