Saturday, November 30, 2013

Cold Smoked Rainbow Trout

As I try recipes from far off lands and constantly look for new ways of eating a Trout, I sometimes have to fall back on old, and I mean OLD classics. Evidence of fish smoking dates back thousands of years and was used by various groups of people to preserve their catch. With cold smoking in the Norse method, you basically do several things to preserve and flavor the fish, which is, in essence, raw. I've just made a Lox like product from some large Rainbow Trout, and I can say with certainty that is one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth. Let's go over the process, it's easier than you think!

For me, using a freshwater fish for a raw product just sounds scary. Although the high waters where we catch these fish are relatively clean on the global scale, there are still parasites and bacteria present that could pose a health risk, which is why we have to be meticulous about our preparation and not cut any corners. Done correctly, this fish is as safe as anything you can buy. The FDA states that freezing at a temperature of -4F for a period of 7 days will kill unwanted parasites such as tapeworms. A physical inspection is also handy for tapeworms, and they're often large enough to see with the naked eye. You can also freeze at -31F for 15 hours, but you better have a beefy freezer for that. Check your freezer's temperature, many home models do not go below 0, and this temperature will not kill parasites. I got lucky with a freezer that holds around -10F and I stored my fish in it for 8 days just to be safe.

While the freezing takes care of parasites, we do have bacteria to worry about. Cleanliness and promptness are required when filleting the fish for the smoker. Be very careful with the kidney, along the spine of the fish. We don't want any of that nastiness getting on our fillets. Once the fillets are removed, they need to be cleaned, dried, and frozen immediately. Again, watch that freezer temperature. If you don't have a freezer that can reach these temperatures, reach out to your friends in the food service industry. Many restaurants have a deep freezer.

Once the fish have been adequately frozen and have thawed, we want to coat them, and I mean COAT them with a mixture of salt and brown sugar. I do about 2/3 salt and 1/3 brown sugar. We want the fish to be entirely caked, get the nooks and crannies. This is no time to be stingy with your salt, go big or go home. Once salted, wrap the individual fillets in clingwrap and place in dishes that can catch spillover, in the refrigerator. Some people say 6 hours, but I found that leaving them over night gave the fish time it needs to shed water. You'll notice that your fish has dramatically reduced in size, and should be surrounded by liquid. Rinse off excess salt and sugar and place the fish on racks to dry. They'll feel more firm and they'll be smaller and lighter. This curing process removes water from the meat and adds salt, creating a hostile environment for bacteria. The bacteria need the water in the meat to reproduce and flourish, and we've just taken the water away. Your fish is now cured, and could be eaten, but why leave out the best part?!? These fish are cured and ready to smoke.

Hot smoking cooks the fish, while cold smoking really just adds flavor. You can build your own cold smoker, I used an old BBQ with a fire in it connected with some duct to a platform. I placed my fish on racks on the platform and covered with a giant tupperware. It looked like something from Sanford and Sons' yardsale, but it did the trick just perfectly. I used hickory to get the fire going and then apple wood once the fish was actually in there. You'll want to keep the temperature under 80F, remember we're not trying to cook the fish. Smoke from 6 to 12 hours, depending on how smoky you like it. Don't be afraid to try a bit as it goes, it's the best way to monitor the flavor.

What I ended up with was an insanely delicious product served on crackers with cream cheese, or just eaten as slices right off the fillet. I can't believe it's taken me this long to produce a product like this. Sure, there's an element of risk, like there is in anything worth doing, but the payoff makes it all worth it!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Take a kid fishing!

Because it's an easy way to measure your fish... After all, you know how long the kid is right? Boy we pulled in some hogs on Sunday at Vallecito. There were quite a few people out and it looked like everyone was having a great time and doing well. Our friend across the lake brought a little fella he is mentoring in the big brothers big sisters program. When you take a kid fishing you create tomorrow's fishermen. They won't leave shit all over the banks, they'll be great stewards of the lakes, and they'll NEVER use powerbait. Most of all, they'll help sway public opinion in a way that positively portrays fishermen.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Animas River Fall Fishing Report

In what has become a birthday tradition, Lisa decided that I needed yet another fishing lesson and took me to school. To be fair, I got first, and I got most... but those paltry little slimers are hardly fish compared to this gorgeous male cutbow she hauled in on a home made sculpin jig. I had fish taking very small mayfly nymphs, midges and yellow eggs. It's been a while since I've fished the Animas. Honestly, it's just not the same without my ol' buddy Travis, who picked up and moved back to Maryland where he continues to guide lucky fly fishers. I miss walking up and saying "what are they eating?" and having him pull a jar of bugs out of his pocket. He even left me some seine material, I guess it is up to me now. I'd forgot how gorgeous the fish on the Animas are, and also how fickle. If I had one day of my life left and was given the option.. Animas or San Juan? I would take the Animas without even thinking a second. I noticed a very very small leak in the heel of my waders, I'd like to nip it in the bud before it gets any worse.. Any ideas? Comment below!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Pistachio Crusted Trout Fillets

This is a fast, simple version of a fairly popular recipe. You'll just need a few items. I chose Spaghetti Squash because we've got a bunch of them, but you could serve this on top of just about anything. I left out a sauce here, as I've been eating quite a few rich foods lately, I thought I'd take a break, but just about any butter sauce or Beurre Blanc will do nicely. For the Trout, you'll need:

  • Trout Fillets, Boneless, Skinless
  • About 2/3 cup Pistachios, pulsed in food processor to the size of breadcrumbs
  • Egg
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Oil
  • Butter
  • Flour

Bring the fillets to room temperature and salt them liberally. Dust with flour. Dip the floured fillets in the whipped egg, and then into the Pistachios. Coat them well, stir the Pistachios again, and repeat with other fillet. Heat oil in a pan with a dab of butter, and drop in the fillets. Boom! 2 and a half minutes a side on medium-high will get you there! You're done, enjoy a cold one! As you can see, this is a very simple version of the recipe. You could excite the Pistachio mixture with herbs, bits of garlic, ground hard cheese.. the sky is the limit, however, there's something nice about doing it as simply as possible, and the flavor is amazing, especially with a nice, fat, wild Trout.

Monday, November 11, 2013

New Ice Fishing Page!

I wrote a simple beginner's guide to ice fishing that I've made as a page instead of a blog post. If you or a friend are interested in ice fishing, the skinny is right here in this document!

Beginner's Guide To Ice Fishing.

Pastorius, Vallecito, San Juan

From now until February is my favorite time to be on the San Juan. The cold keeps the the crowds down (and it IS very cold) and the fishing is generally excellent. A nice morning stroll up the San Juan would do me right about now, except for one nagging thought... I am sort of a shameless catch-and-eat fisherman. I think bag limits have done great for the populations of grouse, elk, turkey, deer. We don't catch and release any of those animals, yet their populations flourish. I find that setting out to fish when you have 0 intention of eating anything is sort of a sadistic thing. "I'm going to go stress an animal out and put it through a crappy ordeal to prove that I can" is the thing that rings in my head when I set out to catch and release. That being said, I may or may not know someone who has slipped the occasional fish from the upper San Juan into their vest to bring home for dinner. "Mushy midgy mud" was the description of the fish's flavor he or she told me. So we have aggressive, hungry fish that taste horrible. Sure, there's a lot more to fishing than just catching dinner, or else we'd just use bait, right? The positive mental state one is in after a day fishing the Juan probably does more good for that person's family than a stinky ol' Trout. And it IS fun, terribly fun. So why do I feel a little dirty whenever I go down there?

I feel dirty because I witness the effects of people just not following the rules. For a catch and release area to work, the barbless hook rule HAS to be enforced. We've all seen the train wrecks on the Juan: big fish with pussy sores all over their jaws, hand prints on their sides, slow, sluggish movement. Improper handling and barbed hooks account for almost all of these disasters and they're easily avoided. Also, the guy at the fly shop says you need 7x, but you've got a stiff 6 weight rod. Don't do it, for flip's sake, you're just going to break off fish and leave them with your fly hanging out of their butt. Yes, we all break off fish, but setting out to lose is a bad idea. My wife describes the San Juan as "dirty old diseased fish that make me depressed," and I can really see where she's coming from. So please, pinch your barbs, use your net and hemostats, don't man handle the fish too long for your picture. With all of us making it our goal to keep these fish healthy, we will all have a better experience.

In local news... I've heard that Pastorious is fishing well, and Vallecito is still producing hogs. Look for the weather to change in the coming week and we might just see some excellent fishing returning. It's been a year to the day that I caught that monster Rainbow. That day was cold and snowy. I had no such luck on the anniversary, but I'm excited about upcoming changes in the weather. We're planning on going to Puett when time allows to see if we can talk a fall Walleye into biting.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What to do with one Trout.

Well, I say one Trout, but there were certainly potatoes and other vegetables involved. I caught a lovely 20" Rainbow Trout yesterday and I want to show you how it's possible to make a mouth watering meal that will make even your foodiest of friends whine and pine. Come in, sit down, and have some Trout skin chicharrones. Yep, those are pork rinds, but made from fish skin instead of football. I got the idea for the chicharrones from the illustrious Hank Shaw at his wonderful blog. His cooking makes me look like a backwoods country bumpkin with a chicken fetish, make sure you check him out.

The appetizers are simple, tiny boiled potatoes from the garden, selectively shaved down to be perfect little serving bowls for the cured Trout roe (processed like Ikura, see video.) I put some butter in the potatoes and throw them under the broiler for a minute before I cool them and add the roe.

The Salad, well we need our veggies, so make yourself a nice salad. I'm sure I could have work a Trout into the salad but something about that sets off alarms to my inner New Jersey. I'd settle for some baby arugula with some kinda citrus vinaigrette and pumpkin seeds.

For the main course, we'll steam boneless, skinless trout fillets in soy sauce, sherry, ginger, carrots and green onions. Serve with spaghetti squash with a rice vinaigrette. I put my sides in separate dishes to make the fish float in the broth in which it was steamed. Desert is not of fish, but it is Wild Serviceberry syrup over buttered home made sourdough. This is coming at a time when my poor old dog has just had an expensive surgery and funds for gourmet meals are not available. With a lunker Trout and some simple ingredients, anyone can afford to eat like a king.

Lemon Butter Trout Fillet with Nasturtium "Capers"

It's hog season. We've been keeping the occasional 18-22" Rainbow from Vallecito during this flurry of large fish activity. We find that fish in this size group have lived in the lake long enough to eat natural food and get that rich, pink color. Freshly stocked fish taste ok, but why not let them go to grow up a few years? This is another reason I'm generally against fishing with bait, if everything that takes your live bait swallows it, you don't really have the ability to release the little guys to let them grow up. Learn to tie some jigs, it's self sufficient and a great way to spend a beery evening.

What you'll need

Trout fillets. I'm thinking either half of a large Trout or both fillets from a smaller Trout. We want to fill a frying pan and have plenty for 2 people. If you have more people, well, start multiplying. You'll need some olive oil, butter, salt, pepper, a lemon, and green onions. You can use real capers, but for this recipe I used pickled Nasturtium seed pods. I used this lovely lady's recipe. Nasturtium pods are zesty and delicious and you can grow TONS of them yourself without relying on trans continental trade to caper your dish. I prefer my Trout fillets with the pin bones either pulled or cut out, because I'm a freak about fish bones, but some people just leave them in and eat around them. In my photo, you'll see this recipe served with a garbanzo bean and tomato salad and spaghetti squash. I am leaving the sides purposely vague, you can really couple Trout like this with anything. You could even serve just the Trout on a small plate as an appetizer, that'd look pretty swanky.

You need to remove the fish from the refrigerator or cooler at least 20 minutes in advance of making this. Cold fish will cook unevenly and you'll end up burning some bits while others are barely cooked. Like all meat, fish wants to be brought to room temperature before being cooked. Salt your fillets, and pepperCut the fillet into strips about 1 inch wide. Heat oil and once it is hot, add just a little butter to it until you have a rapidly bubbling mess. You can use an oil more neutral that olive oil if you prefer, but my inner Italian just uses a mellow olive oil for just about everything. Fillets in, skin side down and listen to the sizzle. You will see the cooked parts of the fillet grow and when they've reached about halfway, flip and cook meat side down for just a minute or two. Return back to skin side to finish. This entire process should take no longer than 8 minutes. As with cooking any fish, you just have to remember one thing.. DON'T #$)*ING OVERCOOK IT! Remove the fish from the pan and then, you see all that bubbly, brown joy in the pan? Add a tablespoon of butter and the juice of 1 lemon. Add about 1tsp additional salt. Just get it all boiling nicely while you're plating the Trout. At the very last second add your capers to the pan and then immediately spoon the mixture onto your trout fillets. Top with green onions and serve!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Vallecito Report

I have been taking home a net full of cans and other trash from the rip-rap at Vallecito, and I'd like to applaud you alkies out there, because I find a lot more pop cans and cans of various soft drinks, and energy drinks than I do beer cans. I find an appalling number of Powerbait jars and worm containers. It seems that fishermen who are lazy enough to use this crap are also lazy enough to leave their trash behind... Makes sense. Please, when you're out there, do your part to clean up after these slobs so fishermen don't get a bad rap. I'm not trying to point some holier-than-thou finger at people using bait, hell, during ice fishing season I will happily slap on a nightcrawler, as my lure is limited to a 10" column of water. I'm just saying... fishermen who leave their trash behind need to have their coconuts cracked.

Fishing at Vallecito was stellar... until it wasn't. Friday showed us one of those days that gives you a sore arm, Rainbow after Rainbow, some stockers, some large 20" + fish. Sunday was slow, just a few stockers. Great times!