Jim shares some delicious recipes.
Further to my last column, in waters where trout stocks are robust enough to sustain harvesting a fish or two, we have the opportunity to enjoy some of the very best wild food. No chemicals, no growth hormones, no antibiotics, no ‘footprint’ – and the ability to control taking only what we need.
Trout are thought by some to not be the best fish to eat. Many claim they’re bland and to some tastes, even muddy. Generally, I disagree, and I believe this low opinion of trout is often due to poor handling. I cannot believe how often I’ve seen fish not properly cleaned with the bloodline along the backbone not completely removed, or the flesh has gone soft through not being kept cold.
But if you look after trout for the table, they can be superb eating. One of my favourite ways to prepare trout is by cold-smoking; another is by the Scandinavian gravlax method.
To the latter, and I was introduced to preparing trout this way by CO Ericson who, many years ago was the export director of ABU, the Swedish tackle company. I fished with CO for barramundi in New Guinea, trout in the rivers of Chile, dorado in Paraguay and he joined me often in Tasmania. I also fished with him in the very north of Sweden chasing char and pike on a flyrod. CO was a wonderful and unforgettable character and if he were alive today would be over one hundred years old! The recipe below originally came from the head honcho of ABU, Len Borgstrom. Whilst there are many variations, I like this result; to me it’s the very best.
For four fillets from two trout of about a kilogram each.
A mixture of 1 cup of raw sugar, ½ to ⅔ of a cup of non-iodised cooking salt, one dessertspoon of finely ground black peppercorns. You will also need lots of finely chopped dill (fresh or pot of dried).
Lay the four fillets out skin down on a tray and liberally sprinkle the mixture over each fillet, flesh side up. Then liberally sprinkle the chopped dill over one fillet of each fish. Put the two fillets together flesh to flesh as a whole fish and wrap tightly in cling wrap.
Next, place the two fish into a large roasting tray and put in the refrigerator for 24 hours, then drain the excess liquid and turn them over for another 24 hours. The liquid comes from the salt dehydrating the flesh and firming it. Take the fillets, remove any excess dill and liquid, and they will be ready to eat. (A weight laying on the fillets will help the firming of the flesh, but is not essential – see note below.)
Gravlax is best served with a mustard dill sauce. Take a pot of American mustard, remove at least a tablespoon of the contents and replace with finely chopped dill, a dessertspoon of sugar and a teaspoon or two each of white vinegar and olive oil to mix into the pot. Mix thoroughly and put in refrigerator for 24 hours. You should end up with a superb dill-flavoured sauce of a mayonnaise consistency.
Take a dry biscuit, butter it with cream cheese, slice the gravlax trout thinly onto the biscuit, add a small amount of the dill sauce, a caper on top and you will be eating a superb delicacy.
A few recipes say to add vodka but it is not beneficial in my view. Some like more salt and less sugar and that’s arguable or experimental. I put a weight of a couple of wine bottles (full) on a kitchen board over the wrapped fillets. I think it helps.
Because I like to cold smoke trout rather hot smoke, this is quite an elaborate process – though one I believe to be well worthwhile! For a start, cold smoking trout requires constructing a smokehouse and drying cabinet, rather than using the cooker smokers which are sold in tackle shops, etc.
Both hot and cold smoking can produce good outcomes, but cold smoking originated in the far north of Europe and America; more for preserving salmon and trout through the cold winter months than for eating immediately.
My method has been adapted from a North American company with a few minor adjustments.
Because it’s almost as easy to smoke a number of fillets as one or two, I like to progressively accumulate and freeze several fillets in the freezer (only from well-conditioned trout), and then thaw and smoke them all at once.
Into a large jar or any vessel with a sealed top, put the following: ¾ cup of sugar, ½ cup of non-iodised cooking salt, 500ml of soy sauce, 250ml of dry white wine, 250ml of hot water, a good teaspoon each of white pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and tabasco. Shake contents vigorously a few times and let stand overnight as the fillets are defrosting. (If you’re old like me and have to get up in the middle of the night, give the brine another shake!)
Place the defrosted fillets into a deep tray, flesh side up. Cover with the brine and turn the fillets over. Place in the refrigerator for ten hours or more. Massage them every few hours so the brine gets to cover the fillets entirely.
After about ten hours of brining, take the fillets out and wash the brine off each in cold water. Place the fillets on a towel and pat them dry, then lay them out on the smoking trays/racks. In some smoke houses the fillets are hung but I use racks. Leave them outside or in a drying cabinet (I use my fish safe) for about two hours. The fillets should become sticky from the salt and sugar, and this forms what is known as the pellicle: this is what the smoke clings to.
I use kiln-dried red gum woodchips. Use any eucalyptus or dry wood. Our American friends love Hickory, Alder, Cherry, Mesquite, Apple and more. All these will do but avoid resinous woods, like pine. I place the chips into a tall stainless steel asparagus saucepan, two-thirds filled, then place it on an electric element in the smoker and turn on the power. After five or six hours I replace the chips. About 5 metres away, I have the fillets (with pellicle) placed into the smokehouse on frames. The smoke leaves the smoker and cools through a 5 metre pipe and the fish are then smoked for ten to twelve hours in cool smoke.
This is a most important last step. After smoking, the fillets will have some condensation from the smokehouse and will be slightly damp. They need to dry. I place them back in the fish safe, hopefully in a cold breeze, for about five or six hours and sometime even more. The dryer the fillets are, the longer they will keep. Then I bag each fillet, vacuum pack, then put them in the refrigerator and eat them over the next six months.
Smoked trout is perfect served with pasta, olive oil, garlic and parsley. It’s also ideal thinly-sliced onto scrambled eggs, also with parsley. Mostly, I serve it on a dry biscuit with cream cheese, ground black pepper and a caper. Sometimes I use wasabi mayonnaise and that’s very good too.
Another way to serve smoked trout is to make pâté. Take half a smoked fillet, remove skin and any pin bones with tweezers and chop it up. Add a small (34gm) tub of cream cheese, a couple of tablespoons of good egg mayonnaise, a tablespoon of Asian sweet chili sauce, a bunch of about 5 or 6 finely-chopped spring onions, a good sprinkle of black pepper and blend the lot in a blender until you are happy with the consistency. Serve on a dry biscuit.
At the other extreme from cold smoked, a great way to prepare trout is to simply dust with flour, add white pepper and salt, and fry in a pan with half real butter/ half vegetable or peanut oil: small fish whole and large fish as a fillet. Never overcook! (Some like to poach trout in white wine, a few onions, etc. That isn’t my favourite recipe, although it might be healthier.)
However you prepare your trout, you’re eating the very best nature can provide. Be responsible and I repeat, always treasure what you catch, or put them back for others to catch and enjoy.