Also referred to as the Eagle’s Nest, this spice-forward, aromatic, and salty dish is a novelty.
Inspired by the flavors cooked with the Quapaw Canoe Co. along the Mississippi River, this dish means to take a traditionally rich and fairly simple dish (Spaghetti Carbonara), and imbue it with new and unique flavors. I aimed to create a dish that evoked the image of a bird’s nest. Along the Lower Mississippi, we saw countless eagles, and I thought of them with the flecked brown and earthy cumin, and the half-cracked quail egg yolk (optional) as the finishing touch.
Here, bacon is used mostly as a flavor agent, as well as cooking oil. Catfish are fished and caught in abundance along the Mississippi, and the use of the willow branches is a direct homage to John Ruskey’s famous Willow-smoked catfish dishes while camping on the river’s islands. The mushroom provides the final savory and meaty elements to this dish. When served, this is a meal that demands a bowl of salad to cleanse the palate, and a dessert to satisfy before bed.
1/2 lb bacon (applewood smoked, dry cured)
1/2 lb maitake, sliced (also, hen of the woods) mushroom
1/2 lb catfish (most flaky white fish work)
1/2 lb spaghetti
2 tbsp turmeric
2 tbsp cumin
2 cloves garlic, rough chopped
3 eggs, scrambled
1/2 c. grated pecorino
salt + pepper to taste
*fresh willow branches
*4 quail eggs, optional
Begin by collecting several branches of willow. Soak in water for 15-20 minutes. Rinse and set aside. Chop bacon and heat over a medium flame in a sauce pan. Turn bacon several times, careful not to overcook. Remove bacon from heat, leaving rendered fat in the pan. Roughly chop the garlic and add to bacon fat. After a short minute, add cumin and turmeric. Mix until uniform and immediately add sliced mushrooms. Once coated, remove the pan from the fire.
Set willows atop the cookfire and place catfish carefully on branches as far from the flame as possible. Be careful to watch the meat, make sure it does not fall into the fire or overcook. Flip over. Once cooked to your liking, remove the fillets from the branches, and add to mushroom-spice-base.
Boil water, add salt. When boiling, add pasta, salt, and cook until al dente - just undercooked enough to impress an Italian grandmother. Strain the water, reserving approximately 1/2 cup of pasta water. Return the pasta to the fire, add olive oil to barely coat the noodles so they do not stick together, and drop the eggs, mixing swiftly. Add the bacon-mushroom-catfish mixture to the pasta, stirring to coat the noodles. Add pasta water if needed - but it is not necessary. Finally, after about one minute of reheating, add grated pecorino (any parmesan works, but this or Locatelli are the best). Finish with salt and pepper to taste.
**For an exciting presentation and added richness (to balance the bright turmeric and warm cumin), garnish the bowl with a quail egg yolk, achieved by cracking in half and separating the yolk from the whites. Leave the yolk in one half of the shell, center in the middle of the pasta, and serve while hot so that the yolk is cooked as soon as it is mixed into the pasta.
Chris Battaglia is a passionate canoer, explorer, artist, chef, and GSI Outdoors ambassador. He spent six weeks paddling from St. Louis to New Orleans on an expedition filled with cooking, stay tuned for more of Chris' recipes from his adventures. For more camp cookery exploration recipes, and good times, follow Chris on instagram at @chris___battaglia and online at villagevitals.com