How to Blaze Wild-Caught Fish Like a Finn
Loimulohi is a rugged delicacy that’s perfect for an evening of outdoor winter cookery.
Loimulohi is a traditional Finnish technique for preparing wild-caught fish on an open fire. The fish is sometimes cooked this way in restaurants, but it can easily be prepared the same way outdoors.
All you really need to do it right are a knife, a hatchet, and a fishing rod, as well as whatever trees and herbs are growing nearby.
The loimulohi technique entails pinning a fillet to a wooden board using pegs or sticks and propping it up next to some hot coals. Salmon is a standard choice for loimulohi — the word literally means “blazed salmon” — but the original way to do it was with any fish you were lucky enough to catch, says Sami Tallberg, a popular Finnish chef whose Wild Herb Cookbook is among the bestselling cookbooks in Finland. Trout, whitefish, or perch will all do nicely.
After 20 years of eating directly off the land and coaching others to do the same, Tallberg is more food shaman than chef. “My philosophy is to eat wild, so that we connect with the surrounding nature, including the untreated information and all the nutrients,” he says. “Whenever people gather together in nature to eat, it’s a sacred thing.”
Animated and energetic, Tallberg operates his Botanik Studio on the small island of Ruissalo near the city of Turku. He also hosts events on his property in a private venue dubbed the Kingdom of Heaven.
Proper loimulohi draws from a tradition of what Tallberg calls “hardcore outdoor expertise.” But that doesn’t mean it’s difficult to prepare. If you can make a fire, swing an axe, and acquire a fish — ideally straight out of the water on the end of a line — then you can prepare delicious, juicy fish at your campsite in authentic Finnish fashion.
In keeping with his love of wildness, Tallberg offers no hard rules for making the dish. His only advice is to use the herbs that grow in your local environment.
“Wherever you are on this globe and whatever grows there that’s edible, you use that. That’s how you get the ultimate connection to your surroundings.”
– Preparation –
- Light a fire. Some types of wood work better than others: birch burns at a high heat and will make great coals, alder will add a nice smokiness, and pine offers a delicious aroma that will lightly flavour the fish.
- Find a wooden board or use your hatchet to split a log so you have a flat surface. Any kind of wood will do, though cedar is preferred by some.
- Season the fish with whatever wild herbs you can find: chickweed, sorrel, fennel, marjoram, it’s all good. In his Wild Herb Cookbook, Tallberg writes about 111 herbs that can be found growing in Finland, and he says all of them would be beautiful. Make sure you also pack some coarse salt — which is “essential” — and a pat of butter.
- Lay the fish on the board and use your knife to make divots along the natural grain of the wood. These holes are where you’ll nail the fish to the board.
- Pin the fish to the board using wooden pegs or small sticks, tapping them into place with your hatchet, a hammer, or just a nearby log.
– Cooking –
- Prop the board on some rocks 10 to 20 centimetres away from the fire. You should be able to place your hand between the fish and the fire and hold it there for about 20 seconds, says Tallberg.
- Allow to cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Compared to barbecuing, blazing fish is a slow-cooked method, which is important because wild-caught fish have a lower fat content than farmed fish, so you don’t want them to dry out, explains Tallberg.
- Brush butter onto the fish using the branch of a juniper tree. The juniper “adds a bit of magic,” says Tallberg. Toss the juniper onto the coals after you’re done to add a complex smoky flavour. The fish is ready when it is juicy and still translucent on the inside.
- Serve the fish directly on the board. Let it cool a bit and eat it with your fingers!