When I first saw the name of this recipe, I didn’t think it unusual. After all, many things are baked inside clay cookers. However, as I started reading it, my eyebrows shot upward, for it is a recipe for baking fish in mud, quite literally! While I have yet to try it, I can vouch for the cookbook: The Joy of Cooking, by and Marion Rombauer Becker. I can’t think of a better recipe for Jane Street Clayworks….
FISH BAKED IN CLAY, “The Joy of Cooking,” by Irma Rombauer
Scoop out of the ground a hole about twice as big as the fish you are going to cook. Either wet and tamp the ground or line the area with stones. Prepare a bed of coals in the pit, and lay more flat stones on top of it to heat for 1 to 2 hours. After cleaning the fish and removing the gills, season the cavity with onions or herbs, or wipe with a lemon. Close openings so that mud cannot get inside. Have ready a batch of “mudpie” clay, preferably blue clay, with which to coat the fish. Continue to lay on layers of mud until the covering is 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick. Now clear away the top rocks and the coals from the pit. Place the “clay” fish on the hot lining stones and cover with earth and the rest of the hot stones you have set aside. Rebuild the fire over all and cook 1 to 3 hours, depending on the size of the fish. A 2 1/2- to 3-pound fish will take about 2 hours. When it is done, uncover and crack open the clay mold. Skin and scales, head and tail will come off with the mold, revealing a delicious result. Needless to say, serve at once with corn roasted in the husks.
Once, when I was 14, I ate potatoes roasted over a fire at a beach west of Olympia, Washington. Lifting off the charred outer portion revealed a cream-colored spud with the most heavenly texture and flavor. I can’t remember what else we had for dinner but, 40 years later, I do remember those potatoes. People have been cooking in pit fires for hundreds of thousands of years. And it’s fun! It is also early February and many people are suffering because of weather extremes: severe cold in North America, a Category 3 storm Down Under. It is also hard on the rest of us because, while we may not be enduring such difficulties, we know others are and this knowledge is sobering. Hard times call for lightened hearts and often the unusual or interesting can take one’s mind off one’s travails.