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Pan Fried Trout

One of the best parts of writing game cooking columns is that I get to go out to the field and try to harvest whatever I plan to write about, prepare, and cook. Although being outdoors is fun and exciting, it is always better when you can do so with family and friends. There’s nothing better than spending time in the field with family and friends. This past fall, my longtime friend and hunting partner Tom and I hunted with our friend Grady who was green to elk hunting. While Grady and I were setting up camp, Tom went down to the creek to try to catch some trout. He’s an excellent fisherman and can smell the fish, he was the most likely to catch anything. Sure enough, he was back with three nice trout for breakfast before we had the tent up. We had fried trout, bacon, and eggs for our first morning in camp. We ate well in camp this year despite and cold and snow, we had trout, grouse, elk, and venison. Everything else was frozen solid due to the subzero temperatures. It was pretty chilly for the end of October. Oh and by the way, Grady is no longer called pilgrim, he’s now known as Elk Packer. 

Whether it be fly fishing, spin casting, or trolling on a deep water lake, trout is a family tradition. Some people think trout tend to taste a bit fishy. Trout are generally classified as round fish, fatty fish, and somewhat strong in flavor due to the fat content. Here are some tips to keep trout fresh and clean tasting.

Trout Tips

Keep the fish cold, I prefer to bring and have ice to keep the fish cold. If not, cold water from your boat, wet grass, or dish towels work too. Larger trout like Mackinaw need to be killed and bled if possible. Eviscerate or gut fish asap, remove the entrails and blood line alone backbone. Do I dress the fish and discard the entrails in the water, streamside, or into the garbage? That all depends on where you’re at and what the recommended rules of the fish and game department. 

Freeze or eat asap, the fresher the fish the higher quality and better flavor it will have.

Fresh fish should not smell or taste fishy-like. Fresh fish should taste free of any fishy flavor or odor, ideally, we eat the fish while it’s fresh and not frozen. One of today’s food trends is to purchase local and fresh, there is a reason for that, it is all about taste, flavor, and freshness. This is what “From Field to Table” is all about, harvesting wholesome, healthy, natural protein, and maintaining its quality from field to table.

Fresh fish won’t smell like fish and the meat is springy to the touch. The eyes are clear and the gills are red. When I purchase whole fish, I inspect the quality by first smelling, checking the eyes for clarity, smelling and checking the color of the gills, touching for firmness, and smelling the inside of the cavity. I check my catch the same as if I was purchasing. 

Trout can be found in much cold water, they come in all different sizes. I prefer to keep the head, skin, and tail intact on smaller fish and eat the flesh off the skeleton like eating corn on the cob.

The larger lake trout I fillet, leaving the skin on, freeze the two fillets flesh to flesh with wax paper between with the skin on the outer surface. The larger trout tend to have a stronger flavor due to the amount of fat, many people like to smoke these fish. Before cooking I decide to leave skin on or off depending on the preparation. I like to cook the skin crispy, sometimes I call it skin jerky or bacon. For the larger fish filets, I remove the side pin bones.

Trout can be cooked using dry cooking methods, moist cooking methods, and combination methods as well as in soups, salads, and appetizers. Trout skeletons, heads, & fins (gills removed) can be prepared into fish stock and used for soups and sauces.

Pan Fried Trout

Most outdoors men and women have attempted trout fishing in creeks, lakes, or ponds. When it comes to eating these trout the majority of us have experienced pan fried trout in one form or another. It is one of the easiest cooking methods and works well with trout. Pan frying is so versatile it can be done at home, in hunting camp, or streamside. Almost every camp has the basic tools and ingredients needed to prepare this dish. 

Pan fry is a dry cooking method with oil. It has more oil than sauté and less than deep fry. The food to be pan-fried is usually tender and is coated either with breading and/or flour or battered. The key steps of making pan fried trout are: tender cut. Straight-sided sauté pan known as a sautoir. I like to use a large cast iron pan, it holds and distributes the heat. The oil should come about halfway up the product. The food items should be placed good side down first. That will be the presentation side, the item is turned once. Cook one or two batches in the oil before straining all the floaties out of the oil. These floaties not only stick to the new fish and ruin the appearance but also destroy the oil. Place the cooked item on a paper towel to absorb fat and serve immediately. 

Sauces for pan fried preparations are always made on the side, meaning in another pan or bowl. We don’t use the same pan to make the sauce or gravy due to the amount of fat or oil used. Pan fry is unlike sauté where the sauce is prepared from the fond (brown on the bottom of the pan). The sauce is always served either under or on the side of the product to prevent the item from getting soggy. Once the oil has been strained you can use it again. 

The key to pan fried trout is regulating the temperature especially if you’re cooking over a fire. Getting the oil too hot, the coating burns while the inside is still raw. Adding the fish when the oil is too cool, the coating won’t brown but will absorb all the fat and result in a poor greasy dish. Fish fillets may be breaded and frozen for future use. Sift the bread crumbs every once in a while to prevent lumps from accumulating on your breaded fillets. Discard the breadcrumbs, egg wash, and flour, after using.

Always season the meat before flouring, the flour will help the egg wash adhere to the meat, always knock off excess flour, or else the egg wash will fall off as well and there will be dry spots which will result in poor quality. I like to use fresh white bread crumbs or cornflake crumbs for a different finished product rather than the old brown traditional breadcrumbs.

Enjoy what you catch and cook pan fried trout next time!

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