While several species of fish become dormant in the dead of winter, the inverse is true when it comes to lake trout. Sunset Country has literally hundreds of lakes littered across the landscape that are home to the lake trout and January/February are excellent times to catch them.
I recently made a trip with my dad and we were fortunate enough to put a couple nice trout on the ice. The only thing we enjoy more than a screaming drag, courtesy of the mighty Laker, is to enjoy some smoked trout with family and friends as a reward for our efforts.
I’ve been working on my smoked trout recipe, going on 20 years and think I’ve got it right for my family’s taste. People seem to enjoy it so I thought I’d share.
Trout fillets (prefer 3-5 pound fish), bones in, skin on
Coarse salt or pickling salt
The first step is obviously to clean your catch. We prefer to leave the skin on and bones in to help keep the fillets together. We prefer trout in the 3-5 pound range as they smoke quickly and don’t become overly dry…not to mention, we like to release all big fish regardless of species.
The next step is to make the brine. The brine is essentially a marinade that the fillets soak in to cure the meat. I have never actually measured the quantities, but there’s a trick that I’ll share. First select a container large enough to hold your fillets, I like to use a large pot. Fill the container with enough water to cover the fillets, but don’t add the fillets yet. Next add salt and mix to dissolve. I start with about a cup of salt for every 8 cups water. Next is the trick I was telling you about. Place a fresh egg in the water/salt solution. What you’re looking for here is for the egg to float suspended in the water. If the egg sinks to the bottom add more salt, if it’s floating high add a bit more water. It’s a bit of trial and error til you get it right. Next add brown sugar to taste (I like 1 cup for every 8 cups water) and add garlic powder (I like ¼ cup for every 8 cups water). Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
The brine can be tweaked to whatever flavors you like, the salt/water mixture is the most important and must be right. I’ve tried molasses, cayenne pepper, honey, the skies the limit.
Next place the trout fillets in the brine skin side up, cover and refrigerate about 24 hours.
Prior to placing the fillets in the smoker, make sure to rinse the fillets very well with water. Failure to rinse the fish will result in a very salty final product.
The final step is to put your fillets in the smoker and monitor the progress. When it comes to smoke, we really like Applewood, but it all comes down to personal preference. We smoke at approximately 200 F for 4-6 hours depending on the size of the fillets. The last 2 hours, baste the fillets with maple syrup every 30 minutes until done. You’ll know the fillets are done when the edges start to curl a bit. The fillets will also be flaky and take on a rich caramel color.
Once done, remove the fillets from the smoker to cool. Once cool, wrap in paper and put in the refrigerator.
I highly recommend playing with the brine recipe to suit your palate. The sky is the limit and as you can see, I’ve kept the recipe simple for my family’s taste. I also tend to stay close to the smoker during the smoking process to monitor progress and baste at the end. Also, remember that “quality control” is crucial when it comes to all things cooking related!!