Made in Minnesota: Smoked Whitefish Salad and Goose Pastrami Recipes

Team Minnesota tackles the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers cook off

I have been hunting, fishing, and foraging all of my life. Most of my childhood was spent running around in the woods of the Chippewa National Forest. With the exception of the deer hunting I have done with the Oberg family in northwest Minnesota, the rest of my outdoor activities have taken place on public lands. The vast majority of the food that I have cooked for my own personal blog and for the Cast-Iron Chef has come off of public land. Those public lands have been a major part of my life, and of many readers. If we want them to be around in the future to be a part of our kids and grandkids lives we need to be aware of what is going on with them.

Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to head out to Missoula, Montana, for the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers annual Rendezvous. If you are unfamiliar with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, they are an organization dedicated to protecting public lands. I am a member of the Minnesota chapter and as a member I went to Missoula to participate in the weekends activities including The Camp Chef Cook-off.

camp chef cooking stovetop
Camp-chef cook off. Lucas Leaf​

The rules of this year’s competition were that each state would enter a two-person team and that team would cook a dish that represents their home state. My partner for this adventure was one of our chapter board members and Modern Carnivore Mark Norquist. Mark and I had planned on putting together a trio of sliders to represent our waters, land, and sky but some rule changes and some time constraints made us rethink what we wanted to do.

In thinking about what would best represent Minnesota, we knew we wanted to have a fish component. We also knew that we wanted to use wild rice, but when it came to picking game that would best represent Minnesota it got a little difficult. We have bear and deer and turkey, but so do most everyone else. We decided to go with Canada goose because Canada geese are a big part of our hunting throughout the state, and especially in my home town of Rochester.

camp chef team minnesota
Team Minnesota: The author (left) and Mark Norquist. Lucas Leaf​

For the goose I wanted to make a smoked goose pastrami sandwich with onion marmalade on a wild rice bun. To go along with our sandwich, we decided to make a wild rice salad with smoked whitefish and highbush cranberry vinaigrette. Mark was able to get some whitefish and smoke them, and I was able to get some authentic hand-harvested wild rice from my brother. The goose was easy to get my hands on, and we were all set.

We would be judged on five categories and one of those categories was going to be hosting (i.e. how we interacted with the five judges during the cooking portion of the contest). I decided that we should serve up a little snack and a beer as they came around, so I popped some wild rice and tossed it with ramp salt and served up one of my favorite local beers. The Wild Brunette for Barley Johns here in Minneapolis is a Wild Rice Brown Ale and seemed to be a perfect fit for our theme. To serve our Minnesota-themed dish we were fortunate to get some cutting boards from Epicurean that fit our Minnesota theme perfectly. Each board had a topographical map of the Boundary Waters Canoe area Wilderness stamped into it.

minnesota sandwich goose
Minnesota’s submission to the BHA Camp Chef Cook-Off Lucas Leaf​

At the tasting table it is always a little stressful to watch people eat your food—especially when you are watching some pretty heavy-hitters in the outdoor world try your food. I will say that the look on Randy Newberg’s face when he bit into our sandwich was worth the trip by itself. Both the sandwich and the salad were a hit and seemed to impress. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough: Team Minnesota came in second place. We were edged out by the team from Oregon who made an incredible Cioppino with fresh seafood from the Oregon coast. (It’s hard to compete with fresh seafood.) I am just glad I was able to serve up some goose to a lot of people who claimed they didn’t like goose. But like I always say: You have to cook it right.

Wild rice and Smoked whitefish salad with highbush cranberry vinaigrette

4 cups cooked wild rice

1 cup smoked whitefish (or any smoked fish really)

½ cup dried cranberries

½ cup diced apples, ¼ inch dice

½ cup diced celery, ¼ inch dice

½ cup pickled mushrooms, (if you can’t find pickled mushrooms you can add roasted mushrooms)

backcountry cook off
Anthony Licata (center) of Outdoor Life & Field and Stream and Mike Schoby (center right) of Petersen’s Hunting photograph the team’s submission. Lucas Leaf​

Directions: Combine all the ingredients and toss with the vinaigrette (recipe below).

Highbush Cranberry Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons highbush Cranberry jelly

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

¼ cup red wine vinegar

½ cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Whisk together the jelly, mustard, and vinegar then slowly add the oil while whisking constantly. Add the vinaigrette to the salad and serve.