A fine kettle of fish: Fulda prepares to smoke 3,500 pounds of carp at Fish-A-RamaFULDA — If not for the faint scent of barbecue sauce and smoking fish, anyone driving through Fulda Tuesday would have had no clue what was going on inside a small structure on U.S. 59 right in town.
FULDA — If not for the faint scent of barbecue sauce and smoking fish, anyone driving through Fulda Tuesday would have had no clue what was going on inside a small structure on U.S. 59 right in town.
Other than a few pickup trucks parked out front, there was little indication that a massive feed was being prepared inside the Larry Pederson Trucking building. Inside, however, board members from the Fulda Game & Fish Club scurried about, scrubbing, cutting and basting big chunks of fish for the 56th annual Fish-A-Rama.
According to club president Keith Hakeneis, approximately 3,500 pounds of carp were seined from West Graham Lake — enough to fill a pickup trailer — to be smoked during the week and served during the event, which takes place from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Fulda Legion Hall. The smoked fish will be served with baked beans, crackers, bread, cheeses and chips as part of the club’s annual fundraiser.
The event generally draws in quite a crowd, and according to member Phil Zins of Dundee, there was quite an uproar last year when the event had to be cancelled due to weather.
“People asked me all year if we were going to do it this year,” he said with a grin.
A 15- to 20-year veteran of preparing the fish — he can’t remember for sure, he said — Zins chatted about past events while applying his scrub brush to the carp fillets.
His father was one of the past members who helped start the smoked carp feed, he said, which had at one time been sponsored by both the Fulda and neighboring city Avoca’s fish and game clubs.
“We held it in Avoca for a few years,” Zins explained. “We served the food in the basement, then had a dance upstairs in the (community) hall.”
Many of the men who worked to prepare the fish are what they jokingly referred to as “second stringers.” Their fathers had participated in the same steps they were working to complete this week.
Monday, the men spent about six hours cleaning the fish, which truly is about as messy and unappealing as it sounds, they laughed. Fish guts, now matter how much you try to pretty it up, are still fish guts.
“And we were tired by the time we got done,” admitted Mark Voss.
That didn’t stop them from coming back the next day. After Monday’s cleaning, the men had coated the fillets with a brine, then let it sit overnight. They don’t soak the fish in the brine, Zins said, they just run the brine water over the layers of meat.
“We let it set with the salt on it, which preserves the meat,” he explained.
Work began Tuesday with several men attacking the fillets with scrub brushes, getting rid of excess salt. After a fillet was scrubbed, it went into a plastic tub and was carried to the next station for cutting.
The large fillets were run through a band saw and cut into more manageable portions, which were stacked in another tub. Nearby, the large smoking racks were being prepared for use by receiving a through coating of vegetable oil.
Then the cut fillets were taken from their current tub, lined up on the racks and basted with a tangy barbecue sauce and a layer of onions.
Once the rack was full, it was hoisted up by two men and carried out to be put in the smoker, where it would spend the next 8 to 10 hours.
“We smoke the daylight out of them,” Voss laughed.
The smoker, which can hold several of the large racks at once, contains two burners.
The temperature inside the smoker started out low, but would be brought up to about 200 degrees during the process, Voss said.
Once the fish were fully cooked, the racks were brought inside and the pieces allowed to cool.
According to board member Duane Paplow, the entire cleaning, cutting and preparing process used to take place outside.
Other than that, the biggest change in the process over 56 years was the addition of the band saw.
“We used to do all the splitting by hand,” Paplow revealed. “Sometimes one guy would hold the ends and another would smack it down the middle with a hatchet.”
In the earlier years, Voss said, the fish weren’t local. The carp came frozen from a company up north. The men all agree they prefer the local catch.
Proceeds from the fundraiser are used for a variety of local projects — keeping docks and aerators in good repair, putting public benches around the lake, and building a pond to hold back dirty water, to name a few.
In addition to the nominal entrance fee for the Fish-A-Rama, a raffle takes place, and includes prizes such as a shotgun, Fulda bucks, a Minnesota loon print, an electric turkey fryer, meat bundles and more.
There will also be a drawing for the 12 and under crowd, with a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun as the prize.