Freshwater TroutA well-smoked trout lends itself to countless applications at the table. It makes a wonderful addition to breakfast dishes, such as poached eggs over toast; lightly flaked with watercress, lemon, and fresh herbs, it’s nice in a light salad; mashed into some crème fraîche and smeared on a griddled baguette and finished with snipped chives, it makes a tempting hors d’oeuvre. But my favorite way to indulge in this delicate fish is outside with only my fingers to pick the meat from the bones, oh, and maybe a heel of crusty bread.
Fish and meat must be cured to begin the drying process before you smoke it. There are two ways to cure, wet and dry, with both counting on salt to draw out moisture. Brine is a liquid-based salt-sugar-spice solution (as in a Black Forest ham); a dry-cure is essentially a dry rub made from salt, sugar, and spices (as in gravlax). For trout and similar-size fish, I prefer the brine method for a few reasons.
First, it’s quick and easy. Second, the liquid of a brine helps keep the smoked fish moist. Third, I love the metallic sheen of the fish when it comes out of the smoker.
Feel free to tweak the flavor profile wherever your tastes take you, but mind the ratio of salt to sugar to water to achieve excellent results every time. I like rosemary in this otherwise simple brine: the herb’s light piney notes recall the resinous perfumes that hug the creeks of my beloved Catskill woods. Among other herbs and spice pairings that go harmoniously with the brine are fennel seed and thyme; tarragon and citrus zest; and dill and fresh garlic.
Hot Smoked Trout
Photograph © Stéphanie de Rougé from Preserving Wild Foods
In this preparation, after lightly curing the fish, cook them all the way through. By gradually increasing the heat in the smoke chamber as you go, you are “kippering,” a treatment that gives the fish its signature mahogany-gold lacquer on skin and flesh. If you’ve had a wildly successful day on the water, you can always double or even triple the quantities in this recipe, but two trout is about as ambitious as I get.
Makes 2 smoked trout
In a large pot, bring to a boil
6 cups waterTurn off the heat and allow the brine to come to room temperature, then transfer it to a large airtight container and refrigerate until it’s cold. Into the brine, put
2 cups light brown sugar
1 cup kosher salt
zest of ½ lemon
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1½ teaspoons coriander seeds
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 (8- to 12-inch) head-on, gutted, and rinsed troutUse a plate to weight down the trout so that they’re submerged. Cover the container and refrigerate for at least 6 and up to 12 hours.
Remove the fish from the brine and blot with a kitchen towel. Set a flat cooling rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet, then put the fish on the rack. Refrigerate for 6 hours, to dry the fish completely.
Put the trout in an unheated smoker (go to LEM Products or The Sausage Maker, Inc. for product information) and heat it to 120°F. Let the fish smoke for 1½ hours, which enables the smoke to penetrate the fish and kipper it. Increase the heat to 170°F and smoke the fish until its internal temperature is 165°F, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove the trout from the smoker and either serve it immediately or wrap it in parchment or waxed paper and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
Note: This trout, even after being refrigerated, can be held at room temperature for a few hours, which is helpful if you want to take it on a hike.
Recipe and text excerpted from Preserving Wild Foods © 2012 by Matthew Weingarten and Raquel Pelzel. All rights reserved.
Go to: A Twist on Tradition Thanksgiving Menu for more great Thanksgiving recipes.