Nathan Robson, whose most special skill is to cook a fish on a campfire, is a mysterious product of the Welsh mountains. Amongst many other things, he fills the role of ‘Camp Chef’ on our weekend microadventures.
As much as we’d love to see him with floppy wrists and a pink tutu, the ‘camp’ part here refers to Nathan’s innate ability to construct mind-boggling campfire craft and subsequent food that fellow campers dream of for many moons after it first passes their lips.
One of his signature creations is Fish (with a capital F). We’ve teamed up with our friends over at Salmon & Bear and Ora King Salmon to bring you a series campfire creations over the coming weeks that you can replicate yourself next time you find you’re lost in the woods with a fish in one hand, a knife in the other and an empty belly…
There are 3 main components required to cook a fish using this technique, all of which should be found relatively easy in an average wooded area. They are the split stick, cross sticks and tripod.
Find an approximately 2 m long, 5cm diameters straight stick of standing dead wood and shave off all of the bark then using a knife and another piece of wood as a mallet split the stick in half down its core (make the split about 30cm longer than the fish that you want to cook), making sure to keep the cut central so that one side of the stick doesn’t break off.
The width of your fish when butterflied open will determine the length of the cross ticks that you’ll need. Your cross sticks need to be about 20cm longer that the width of your fish when butterflied. Typically you will need three cross sticks which should roughly be the diameter of your thumb. When you have selected your suitable sticks, remove all of the bark from them and sharpen one end of each stick to a point.
This is the easy part! Find 3 relatively straight sticks about 1.5m in length each and make a tripod! Natural cordage could be used to secure the tripod together however it is often a good idea to carry some 2mm stainless steel wire in your kit for jobs such as this.
Place the fish fillet flesh side down on a clean surface such as a bed of clean bracken or moss. Then using a sharp pointed knife pierce the fish from the skin side in the places where you want to thread the cross sticks through, typically two holes in line with each other on each side of the fillet near the top, in the middle and near the bottom of the fillet. Make sure not to go too close to the outside edges of the fillet as this may cause the skin and flesh to tear at a later stage in the process.
When you have done the holes thread the cross sticks through from the skin side, then along the flesh side then through the flesh side of the hole on the other side.
Get a 0.5m length of natural cordage or wire read… Then get one person to hold the clamp stick vertically and pry open the split. When the split is open the other person is to carefully pick up the fillet using the top and bottom cross sticks and slide the fish along its backbone down inside the split, making sure to keep everything as symmetrical as possible.
When the fillet is suitably positioned squeeze together each side of the top of the split sick which should then clamp on to the cross sticks in place which in turn will hold the fillet in position.
Once you are happy with the position of the fillet and the cross sticks get the natural cordage or wire and as tightly as possible secure the top of the split stick together.
The rule of thumb is that you should be cooking over embers with small flames and not over huge naked flames. Providing that when you place your hand next to whatever you are cooking that you cannot hold your hand there for longer than 3 seconds then it’s hot enough.
Explore more cooking ideas…