The Door County fish boil is the Midwest's version of the classic crab boil, featuring boiled whitefish and potatoes in a large pot of salted water.
The Door County fish boil is known far and wide as a dish, a destination, and an event. But you don't have to drive all the way to Door County, Wisconsin to enjoy it. A fish boil done right at home on your stovetop is also delicious, and it really couldn't be easier.
What is a fish boil?
Door County is Wisconsin's version of the Hamptons, except with friendly down-to-earth people who, instead of duck flambe and an amuse-bouche, happily serve you boiled whitefish with a couple of red potatoes. But hey, it's delicious. And it's Wisconsin. And we love it.
The traditional Door County fish boil is made outside in huge pots bubbling over a large open fire and served to large groups. Potatoes and onions are boiled in a large pot of salted water until tender, then Lake Michigan whitefish is added to the pot and briefly boiled until cooked through. Then the show really starts!
A true fish boil is finished when the chef, or boil master, pours kerosene on the wood fire, causing it to flare up and ignite the fish oils bubbling on the surface of the pot. Once it burns off it is time to eat!
History of the Door County Fish Boil
The culinary tradition of the first Door County fish boil began in the 1800s by Scandinavian immigrants who settled on the Door County peninsula. Needless to say, the dish didn't begin as a tourist attraction, instead, it was simply an easy way to feed the large number of lumbermen working in the area forests.
It wasn't until around the 1960s that the traditional fish boil, as we know it, became a popular tourist attraction at The Viking in Ellison Bay and The White Gull Inn located in Fish Creek, respectively. Fish boils have now sprung up across the county as popular tourist destinations, as well as for weddings, graduations, and other community gatherings.
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Kosher salt
- Small baby red potatoes - You can substitute Yukon gold potatoes if needed, but baby reds are the traditional choice.
- Yellow onion
- Fresh Whitefish fillets - If you can't find whitefish, feel free to substitute lake trout, Pollock fillets, or cod fillets. Obviously, fresh fish are best, but feel free to purchase frozen fillets if needed.
- Crab Boil seasoning - Salt is most commonly the only traditional seasoning used, however, I add Zatarain's Crab Boil seasoning for more flavor.
How to make it
This homemade fish boil recipe serves two people. However, you can easily double the recipe if needed. If doubling, you don't have to double the water, salt, or crab seasonings.
Begin the cooking process by filling a large pot with a gallon of water along with half of the salt, and bring to a boil. Add the small red potatoes, onion, and crab boil seasoning to the boiling water.
Let the pot boil for 20-30 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. Then add the whitefish steaks along with the remaining half cup of salt to the boiling pot. Whitefish will cook quickly, so start checking the fish after the first few minutes.
When the fish is done, drain water in a colander and return potatoes and fish to the pot. The onion and seasoning can be discarded (or you can choose to serve the onion). Add melted butter and the juice of one lemon to the pot and gently stir to coat.
What to serve with a fish boil?
This simple seafood dish is best served with a few simple sides. I recommend the following with your fish boil dinner:
- Cole slaw - A classic coleslaw would be more traditional, but my apple cider vinegar coleslaw would be a great choice too.
- Rye bread
- Old fashioned tartar sauce
- Lemon wedges
- Corn on the cob
- Door County Cherry pie
More Classic Wisconsin Recipes
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Door County Fish Boil
- 4 quarts water
- 1 cup kosher salt divided
- 12 small baby red potatoes
- 1 large yellow onion quartered
- 1 pound whitefish fillets cut into 3 inch pieces
- 1 packet Crab Boil seasoning optional
- 2 tablespoons melted butter melted
- 1 Lemon
- Fill a large pot with four quarts of water along with ½ cup of salt and bring to a boil over high heat on your stovetop.
- Add the potatoes and onion, along with seafood boil seasoning wrapped in cheesecloth or placed in a tea diffuser, if desired. Boil until potatoes are fork tender, approximately 20-30 minutes.
- When the potatoes are soft, add the fish and the remaining ½ cup of salt. Boil for 3-5 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through.
- When the fish is done, drain the water in a colander and return fish, onion, and potatoes to the pot. Discard the seasoning.
- Add butter to the pot and gently stir to evenly coat everything.
- Serve on plates with sliced lemon. (Alternatively, lemon juice can be squeezed into the pot when the butter is added)
This recipe was originally published January 27, 2015, on FoxValleyFoodie.com.
Way, way, way too much salt. It ruined the recipe.
My step-father's family were commercial fishermen at Gill's Rock and we enjoyed many a wonderful Fish Boil at their docks. I have their recipe in crowd size and family sized versions ... very close to yours. Brought up on Lake Erie perch and bass, I remember thinking a fish boil sounded pretty awful - until I tasted it!! We don't get much whitefish in my area of SW Ontario, but I may have to get some other fish for this weekend ......
Thanks for the memories and the incentive. 🙂
Hello, 4 stars because of the amount of salt used. I know that is the traditional way, now we know better.
My Father was of Scandinavian decent, he would make a pot of this every year as we camped. He would add a few more veggies as every one within hearing was invited. The fish he used, we caught in the lake. Mom made campfire biscuits.
I remember it was absolutely delicious!!
Thanks for the Memories, it has been about 60 years!raf