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I remember the smell of my old man’s Little Chief smoker in the back yard. Being sent outside to check on the fish as they smoked and dried to perfection. Here in Montana, as with anywhere, you can find trout in all different water bodies and elevations making them very available and abundant.
There are a few different flavor profiles of a trout and it depends on several factors. For example, in my own preference, trout tastes best through the ice and in smaller sizes. But some may want to keep larger fish for consumption.
Fish of any species accumulates a certain level of mercury that can be harmful, especially in reservoirs and still waterbodies. The larger the fish the older it is, and the older it is the more mercury it will have. Because of this I have always opted for 2 small trout over 1 large trout.
The color of the flesh changes as well and in the winter can take a lighter shade or a more vibrant color depending on the subspecies, location, and environment. With this comes a unique flavor profile that can complement many different fish dishes.
Today I want to share with you a few different ways to prepare a trout of just about any variety. These are simple ways to prepare a good meal for the entire family and they taste particularly good. I will also include a personal holiday favorite for you can try at home.
So, I imagine that most are familiar with smoked fish, but it is worth mentioning the different types of smoked fish there are and the fact that the secret to good smoked trout is in the brine.
The brine is where any smoked trout begins. The key to good smoked trout brine is in the salts but also the sugars. The combination of these gently break down the flesh of the fillet, making it easier to evenly smoke it.
There are many different degrees in which to smoke fish and it honestly depends on the application. I personally like to smoke trout a little soft for eating at home but when in the field for days at a time, I like a more shelf stable “hard smoked” fish.
As far as what types of chips to use it really does not make a huge difference despite what others may say. My father has a PhD in wood chips biology, just ask him. The only rhyme or reason I have found is that harder woods tend to be good with darker colored meat.
One note I will touch on is the difference in the quality of the chips. I have found that the name brand chips are better than the generic that you can find in places like Walmart and other retailers. Just remember what color hickory should be. If the chips do not reflect what hickory should be, do not buy it.
Trout Over the Fire
When I was a child, I was taught many outdoor things, like how to find north with two sticks, a rock, and a little patience, and we were also taught how to prepare fish with nothing but a knife and a stick.
Now this is a simple way to prepare any fish, not just trout. I really like using the method for smaller fish. Simply take a stick that forms a “Y” and cut a slit down the middle of both arms. Simply slide your fillets into the arms of the stick and angle the fish over your fire.
This method is simple and does not require any equipment to be carried. While this method is not very “home and garden”, I think that it is an important way to learn to cook a fish, especially trout.
Using this method also allows fattier fish to naturally shed some of that grease into the fire while cooking for a leaner dinner. When I catch small brook trout in the mountains, I can cook several fish at one time, which is handy when feeding myself and my dog at the end of the day.
One thing to remember with this method is to make sure that you securely anchor the base of the stick to the ground. An uncooked fillet with water content is very heavy and your dinner could end up in the dirt if you are not careful.
As far as grilling is concerned there are many ways you can cook trout. I will explain two different ways I love to grill trout and hopefully you will try them in your home.
Cedar Plank Style
The first is with a soaked cedar plank.
If you have never grilled with cedar plank you are missing out. The soaked fibers of the plank regulate temperatures hitting the fillet for an even grill and they also make it easier to handle the fillet while grilling.
(check out our delicious cedar plank catfish recipe)
Try moving the cedar plank from higher temperature parts of the grill to lower temperatures as the cooking process happens for a nice firm meat when it is finished. I like a charcoal grill personally because I can easily add a few cups of chips to give it a light smoke while grilling as well.
A simple method that I really like for grilled trout is turning the trout into a pouch. This method works best for smaller trout that can cook rapidly. Just clean your trout as you would normally but do not fillet and lave the head attached.
Inside the clean cavity of the trout simply add a tablespoon of butter in small cubes, salt, pepper, and dill. Honestly, you can just add whatever you would like, I am a dill and lemon guy, so I always carry that with me on trips.
Once the ingredients are added, simply wrap the trout in a tinfoil envelope or pouch that is watertight and grill. I honestly just throw it in the coals of a firepit like you would a potato but on the grill just turn from side to side.
Most small trout under 12 inches can be cooked 4-5 minutes per side. I really like this method because you can simply unfold the pouch a bit and eat “right out of the bag”, no dishes needed. Try this for camping or out with the RV.
A Decadently Delicious Trout Dip
Okay, this is a personal favorite of mine and I am guilty of eating several pounds of this stuff in my life. We make it every year for the holidays, and it is simple to make and even easier to eat. This smoked trout dip recipe is quite simple to make and once the trout is smoked, it only be a few minutes before you are enjoying this tasty treat.
I am also going to add that though this recipe calls for hard smoked trout, you can use hard smoked salmon from a store if needed.
Simply take 4 cups of shredded hard smoked trout and 3 cups of chopped green onions and add them to 2 packs of cream cheese.
Trickle milk (add as little or as much as you want for a thicker or softer dip) slowly into the bowl as you mix the ingredients with a mixer until it reaches what you might call a dip consistency. I add pepper, salt, and garlic powder to taste to finish it and this dip goes great with any cracker, especially Ritz.
Cooking and Eating Trout: Why You Should Give It a Try
Trout are not only available in nearly all freshwater environments, but they are also quite easy to catch. My outdoor adventures take me to lowland reservoirs, high mountain lakes, and rocky mountain streams where I have caught trout on simple bait and tackle.
Another reason to eat trout is that like other fish, they cook in minutes. I really enjoy that a small trout can be a meal in ten minutes which saves me time during my day. Trout has a very neutral flavor profile that pairs with just about anything as well.
The thing to remember with trout is that they are freshwater and their flavor profile will change with age so if that does not appeal to you maybe opt for a few smaller trout instead of a larger trout like we discussed above.
One flavor that is a fan favorite in my home is lemon and other citrus flavors with trout. I like to use lemon pepper for simple baking and sliced lemon rings on the fillet as well. But when I eat trout for just myself, I enjoy simple salt and pepper and maybe some dill. It just depends on your preferences.
Consider the time of year you are catching the trout as well. Flavor profiles change for many reasons and temperature is a large factor. I enjoy small winter trout for frying for example, whereas I prefer summer and spring trout for smoking or grilling.
Look around on the internet or head to your local sporting goods store to look for recipe books and other helpful literature. These books have an abundance of information to try new things and new ideas when cooking trout.
Be sure to have fun when cooking and make it a family thing. It is not uncommon for there to be 3 or 4 family members making trout dip on thanksgiving at my home. Get the kids involved and teach them these skills. Happy eating, friends!
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