For this smoking trout recipe, I needed some trout for pictures. Ice fishing sounds fun, and I don’t think my only experience counts. We wacked a hole in the ice with a hammer, but our kids were romping around so much on the ice that any fish in that pond surely dove to the bottom. I hope your ice fishing season is going well.
I’m lucky enough to have a friend whose season is going great, and he has shared the bounty. He and his boys keep catching twenty-plus-inch rainbow trout at a nearby hatchery. These are big fish, and I wasn’t sure what to do with them.
But, I’m also lucky enough to have a buddy who grew up on a trout farm and he shared some tips that I’m excited to share with you. This buddy is the same guy who makes the excellent Kestrel Monopod.
We have been eating our fish three ways: Straight off the smoker when it’s all hot and juicy; with crackers, cream cheese, and pepper jelly; in a calzone. All are excellent, and I’ll give you some tips. These huge fish pushed the limits of my 24″ Camp Chef Woodwind smoker.
I was going to freeze the fish and cook them later, but it turns out that rainbow trout are pretty delicate. Upon thawing, you could end up with mushy flesh.
The best thing to do is smoke those suckers. I’ve had a lot of practice, lately, and I can’t get enough. Even my non-fish-eating family members enjoyed these trout over the holidays.
Brining the fish for a few hours gives them more flavor, but it’s not essential. What is essential is that you do not overdo it with the brine. It can quickly become too salty, and then you won’t be able to eat an entire fish in one sitting. Unlike with red meat, don’t make it too rich, and don’t let it sit too long.
What You Need
- Fish — as many and as large as you can get
- Fir branches
- Plastic or steel tub or ziploc for brining
- 8 Cups water
- 1/2 Cup sugar
- 1/3 Cup salt
- Cream cheese
- Apple jelly, 8oz
- 1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper, more to taste
- Crackers (Triscuit and Ritz are favs)
For a calzone
- Cream cheese
- Pizza crust from a can — like Pilsbury
- Olive oil
What You Do – The Brine
Start with completely cleaned fish. I like the way it looks to keep the fish whole, but you could fillet it, too.
Mix the sugar and salt into the water. Add the fish to your plastic tub or ziploc bag, then add the brine (don’t use an aluminum pot for the brine). Make sure the brine goes into the stomach cavity. Brine the fish for 3 to 6 hours.
Smoking the Trout
Remove the fish from the brine and dry it with paper towels, including the cavity. If you have time, leave it to dry for an hour — this creates a “pellicle”, a thin film of protein on the meat which collects the smoke. Add a bit of a fir branch or rosemary twig to keep the cavity open. Use mild-flavored wood so the smoke doesn’t overpower the flavor of the fish. Set the smoker to about 170°F or 180°F and smoke the fish for 2 to 4 hours. You want it to get up to 160°F inside to kill bacteria.
When the fish is done, you can serve it warm, or drop it in a vacuum bag while warm and then keep it refrigerated. Just peel back the skin and pull the meat from the bones.
Serve it with cream cheese and pepper jelly on crackers. There’s something magical about the sweetness and the creaminess and the light fish.
Make the pepper jelly by mixing cayenne pepper into the apple jelly. Start with about 1 teaspoon per 8oz and add more to taste. It’s a terrific appetizer and the mild flavor appeals to most people.
This is a fun twist with the cream cheese and pepper jelly. Pick up a can or two of pizza crust from the refrigerated section at the grocery store — there’s probably Pillsbury brand near the cans of biscuits, but I used the Walmart brand.
Preheat the oven per the instructions on the can and lay the dough on a pan with a little olive oil. Spread cream cheese over half the dough, then lay fish flesh on the cream cheese, then drop some dollops of jelly on that. Sprinkle mozzarella on top, then fold the dough over and pinch it together all the way around. Use a sharp knife to cut three slits in the top to let steam out. Dab some olive oil on the crust and bake until brown on top — probably past golden. Make sure the center bottom isn’t doughy.
Slice and serve it hot.