Friday, February 24, 2012

Door County Fish Boil at White Gull Inn

I was told that no visitor to Door County, Wisconsin should go home without enjoying a traditional Door County fish boil at White Gull Inn. So tonight I joined the crowd for the Friday night winter feast. (From May through October the fish boils happen Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.)

The fire was already roaring, with a big stainless steel pot full of hot water beginning to boil, when I joined the other people with cameras standing around the fire ring.

The procedure is more exact that you would think. The Master Boiler, Tom Christianson, puts a big steel basket of potatoes in the water and then pours in a coffee can full of salt. After the potatoes boil for a bit, another steel basket- this one full of Lake Michigan Whitefish--is placed on top of the potatoes and the rest of the salt--one pound for every two gallons of water--is added.

The fish cooks fast, enough to feed 45 people takes about 10 minutes, and as soon as it's done the most theatrical part of the evening takes place. Like dinner theater with fish and fire.

Christianson fills another can with kerosene and dashes it onto the fire which erupts into tall flames. Seconds later another splash of kerosene creates a bigger inferno causing the water to boil over, taking with it all the oil that has risen to the surface as the fish cooked.

Watch the boilover video here.

What looks like a big show is really an efficient way of keeping the fish and potatoes from being bathed in oil as the baskets are lifted out of the water.
As Christianson says, "I don't know who invented this process, it's been done for a long time, but I sure do admire the bravery of the man who tried it the first time."

Immediately after the over-boil, Christianson and a helper slip a long steel pipe through the handles of the baskets and carry both inside the restaurant. The experienced diners have already rushed inside to be first in line.

One by one we filed through having our plates filled with boiled red potatoes and fish, both perfectly seasoned by the salt. On the table baskets of bread, bowls of coleslaw and pots of melted butter are waiting.

It is all delicious. And, as a fine finish for a fish boil or any other meal, slices of Door County cherry--with a scoop of vanilla ice cream--are served for dessert.


  1. Can almost feel the heat from the fire. Have to admit, boiled would not be my first choice for preparing fish, but this looks delicious and healthy.

    1. I was wary of boiled fish, too. But the super salted water and the pitchers of melted butter did the trick. It was delish!CAM