I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I actually rather enjoy cooking! Whether that’s preparing a faithful recipe for an easy meal, throwing random bits of food together to see if I can get a tasty dish out of the equation, or trying out something new and exciting, the process is incredibly fun, even when it’s stressful. One of my favourite culinary hobbies has long been finding real-life versions of fictional food, especially in recipe format. Sure, it’s great to head off to a Disney Park and pick up some Star Wars-y blue milk, but why not take the cheaper option and recreate it at home?
However, many tasty treats in games (and books and movies and shows and on and on) haven’t actually been adapted into real-life eats so far. In the past, I’ve tended to feel rather sad about this fact, but it has eventually dawned on me that this actually gives me an opportunity to come up with recipes on my own! Even if mine is an amateur’s work, I’ve found this process especially rewarding, and even more so when the dish comes out tasting great. Today, we’ll be talking about the Spicy Cauldron Stew, a diner menu option at the Oh Deer Diner in Alan Wake.
Partway through the opening of the game’s first episode, “Nightmare”, Alan Wake — a famed novelist with severe writer’s block — stops at the diner to see Carl Stucky for the keys to a rental cabin that his wife, Alice Wake, has rented for their stay in scenic Bright Falls, Washington. He is unsuccessful in actually meeting Stucky, but there’s thankfully a nice lady who gives him some keys to a beautiful cabin that sits right on an island at the local Cauldron Lake — what a steal!
However, when Alan heads out to join Alice in the car, he makes a fatal mistake: not ordering anything from the Oh Deer Diner before leaving! Up on the board are a few very interesting and tasty-sounding options, like The “Big” Small Town Breakfast — why is the “Big” part in quotations? Is the dish actually not, in fact, Big? — or Bradel’s Dopefish Burger for the Commander Keen fans, though I’m still not quite sure who “Bradel” is. However, the dish that got my creative juices flowing the most was the Spicy Cauldron Stew, a bowl of which can be yours for the price of about seven U.S. dollars.
Now, as I started trying to figure out what this would even look like, I somehow completely forgot about the whole “Cauldron Lake” part of the setting and found myself desperately searching online for whatever a cauldron stew was. While that did lead me to internet threads of people asking if it’s a smart idea to make soup in a cauldron and a very interesting Wikipedia article on perpetual stews, I was unsuccessful in my quest. Once I remembered this detail, the process became a lot easier! Since the stew is named after the lake, it stands to reason that the stew would likely feature fish, which tend to hang around in those sorts of spots.
Seeing as Cauldron Lake is a crater lake formed by volcanic activity, I thought it might be fun to look into actual volcanic crater lakes in Washington to better match what might be available for fishing in Bright Falls. I later learned that the primary inspiration for Cauldron Lake was Crater Lake down in Oregon, but when devising the recipe, I wound up using Battle Ground Lake, which has an entire state park around it, as my model. According to the state’s official Department of Fish & Wildlife website, black crappies, bluegill, brown bullheads, coastal cutthroat trout, largemouth bass, pumpkinseed sunfish, rainbow trout, warmouths, and triploid grass carp can all be found in the lake, though they do explicitly say to avoid keeping any of the grass carp. Rainbow trout seemed to be the most plentiful, both there and statewide, so I thought it might be good to work with that as my meat in this stew. However, I had a rather hard time finding it while out shopping, either frozen or fresh, so I substituted with sea bass. Additionally, the internet has assured me that all of these fish are quite delicious, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
I also looked into which vegetables Washington primarily grows, so as to bulk up the stew with delicious veggies! There were a lot of options to choose from — and I wound up feeling very guilty for an American when I decided not to use beans or potatoes, two classic stew staples in the U.S. — but I finally decided on yellow onion and garlic (for flavour), broccoli and carrots (for a nice bit of crunch and colour), and some hot peppers/chillies (to finally bring in the “Spicy” part of the Spicy Cauldron Stew). For my own personal enjoyment, I decided to specifically use pickled jalapeños, one of my favourite peppers, though that left me using a little more than I’d recommend if you’re using fresh peppers. As for spices and such, I added in some fresh parsley as well as ground paprika and cayenne pepper to help along that spicy kick.
For one final note before we get into the ingredients, you may note that I purchased an entire sea bass. I regret this decision completely! It was a bit expensive, and, since I was just trying to get some chopped fish, the process of taking the fish apart to get at the meat took way longer than taking a knife to some fillets would have.
Ingredients (Makes 4 Servings)
- Olive/vegetable oil and butter, 1 tbsp each
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 medium yellow onion ~or~ 2 small yellow onions
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped (about 3 tsp pre-minced/easy garlic)
- 2 hot peppers (chillies), rinsed and chopped (if using pickled peppers, try using three)
- 2–3 large carrots, rinsed and chopped
- 0.5 pounds of broccoli, rinsed and chopped, florets and stalks separated (about 225g) (I prefer long-stemmed broccoli, if you can find it!)
- 4 stems parsley, just the leaves, rinsed and chopped
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/8 tsp red/cayenne pepper flakes
- 1 cup broth/stock (400ml) (I used chicken broth, but if you can find fish broth or clam juice, that would work well too)
- 1 pound rainbow trout, deboned and chopped (450g) (can substitute or supplement with preferred fish)
- 3/4 cup heavy/double cream (optional)
- Hot sauce, to taste (optional)
- Saltine crackers, about four per serving
Rice, as needed
- Set a deep pan over medium-high heat, spreading it with oil and butter. Toss in your onions and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Sauté for around 4 minutes, occasionally stirring.
- Add garlic and stir for at least 30 seconds, up to 1 minute.
3. Add carrots, broccoli florets, and your chosen hot peppers. Stir for 2 minutes.
4. Add parsley, cayenne pepper, paprika, ground black pepper, and salt. Sauté for 2 minutes more or until fragrant.
5. Pour your chosen broth into the pan and stir to combine. Then, add broccoli florets and let simmer without boiling for 2 minutes.
6. Add fish and simmer without boiling for another 5 minutes.
7. It should be ready to eat now, and you can try tasting it to be sure (be careful! It has a delayed kick!), but you can also add the heavy cream and stir to give the stew a beautiful colour. If you find the cream takes away from the spice at all or you’d rather have something a little spicier, add your preferred hot sauce now as well, tasting as you go to make sure you’re happy with the results.
8. Serve, either traditionally, with four saltine crackers for that perfect diner feel, or over rice for a more filling meal.
Conclusion — How’d It Taste?
I was worried that I wasn’t going to have enough fish meat for this, but the stew actually came out rather tasty! I don’t know if I quite managed to give it that American diner-esque flavour, but it was at least a good meal. I’m not entirely sure how the delayed spicy kick came to be, but it definitely made eating this stew a fun experience. I didn’t wind up using any hot sauce this time, so that might dissipate if you use any.
I didn’t wind up making any rice to go with it, and sadly I couldn’t find any actual saltine crackers at my local grocery stores — a consequence of living in the UK for the year, I suppose. The sea salt crackers I did use were an okay accompaniment, but they weren’t perfect.
All in all, I had a fun time! Plus, if this is what the Spicy Cauldron Stew tastes like at the Oh Deer Diner in Bright Falls, Washington, then I’m sure any visit to that small town will be a pleasant one! Who knows, maybe it’ll even be a world-altering event for you?
If you give my little recipe recreation a try, why not leave a comment down below to tell me how it went or if you have any other ideas on how to adapt this recipe? What does a Spicy Cauldron Stew look like to you? Not having a set image for the dish really opens up the possibilities sometimes!