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Smoked Trout

January 12, 2010

April 9, 2009

Smoked trout taste like salmon, and, best of all, the fish are free! That is, unless you are factoring in the cost of a freshwater fishing license, which helps to support the ‘farming’ of the gorgeous, pink-fleshed fish the hatcheries stock our ponds with. And unless you add up the costs of rods and reels and tackle and waders and aerators and jars of Power Bait and hours of watching bobbers or flipping spoons and more hours of gutting and brining and smoking… oh, and, of course, the smoker. And splitting and curing maple and apple and even cedar.

Let’s get back to the fantasy of free sea-run trout charging up through marsh and estuary to big, cold ponds, like they used to and sometimes still do. If that idyll doesn’t stick, fill the yard with dreamy smoke that smells like apples and maple syrup. As the hours pass, pull back the lid every now and again to check on the sticky, salty fish, and when they start to look glazed and just a little leathery, pull off some rosy flesh and taste. Our last batch yielded notes of smoke and salt, as expected, but also lemon, brown sugar, onion and even the faintest hint of  garlic. Standing in the yard, immersed in rich, musky smoke, with the memories of pond and pussy willows dancing in the brain and smooth, smoky trout on the tongue stirs gratitude for the thaw.

While there hasn’t been great weather for relaxed fishing, local fishermen who don’t mind the cold wind and periodic downpours have been having great success hooking trout. A three-fish limit means it might take a few excursions or a few friends to get enough fish to smoke without having to freeze the catch. We were recently blessed with gift trout from Power Bait fanatics with a generous streak. There are plenty of people who love to fish, but don’t normally keep what they catch. If you can find a few such anglers, your smoking days will multiply.

I have a slight allergy to catching fish when I have a fridge-full. After we get through the next smoke I hope to break out the freshwater rod and try some of the chubs I keep swimming around in a big barrel in the garage. I do have a jar of chartreuse Power Bait Nuggets for use if the trout just aren’t biting fresh bait.

Basic Fish Brine, adapted from the Home Book of Smoke-Cooking Meat, Fish and Game by Jack Sleight and Raymond Hull

reduce as necessary

4 US gallons water

5 lbs (8 cups) salt

1 lb. dark brown sugar

1 1/2 cups lemon juice

6 cloves garlic, crushed

1 small white onion, chopped

Dissolve the salt first. Heat enough of the water to cover the salt and stir until dissolved, then add the rest of the water. Add the other ingredients and mix thoroughly. Let steep for a few hours, or until cool, and skim the onion and garlic from the solution and discard. Dill can be added if desired, and honey may be used in place of brown sugar. Soak fish overnight or for at least 6 hours, then lay on racks to dry until the pellicle forms, usually another 6 hours. Smoke at 170 degrees for 5 hours or more, until the flesh flakes when tested.

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