“Fishing is…the great occasion when all men are equal.” ~Ernest Hemingway
One of the things I love about trout is that, notwithstanding the fact that it’s usually pretty easy to catch a mess of stockies, they are extremely versatile fish.
They’re among the fish that are good to cook both fileted and pan-dressed, but I prefer the latter because it lets you get the most meat off of each fish.
And, one of my favorite ways to prepare them is to smoke them, pull the meat, and make the best smoked trout dip you’ve never had (yet, at least).
Here’s what you need to know.
Clean and Prepare the Trout
I’m assuming you already know how to clean a trout (perhaps that’s a blog for another time).
Basically, make a slit from the vent of the fish to the gills. Scoop out the guts; you will need to cut the esophagus at the throat. There will be a long, dark red line along the spine remaining. This is the kidney of the fish. Scrape it out and wash the cavity.
I leave the head of the fish on; you can remove it at this point, but if you do, you won’t get the cheeks, which are in my opinion the finest morsel on the fish.
After you’ve cleaned the fish, they’re about ready to go. All you need now is something to smoke them on. You can smoke them in any old thing that can hold them and will fit on the grill, even a cast iron pan, but if you ask me, you need something with holes.
A grill rack or vegetable tray is a pain and a half to clean, but I prefer these because they’re superior for smoking fish. They allow better airflow and don’t trap moisture at the bottom which will make the meat soggy.
You can see my arrangement in the picture at the top of the article.
The foil makes it easier to clean at the end of the day but still allows good airflow, which is necessary to smoke the fish.
Also, you can’t let these fish lay flat. If you want the smoky goodness to penetrate the interior of the fish, you need to prop open the cavity to the fish’s body.
This is easy enough to do with a few toothpicks. Break them in half if need be and use them to keep the opening to the cavity propped open. This will ensure good airflow and will help guarantee your trout will be as flavorful as possible once you’re done cooking. You can sort of see this in the feature image at the top of this post as well.
There are several ways you can doll this recipe up. For instance, sometimes I drape bacon over the trout as I’m cooking them as this adds another dimension of flavor and satiety to the dish, not to mention it helps lock in moisture.
But for the purposes of this basic tutorial, we’re going to leave all the fix-ins off. You can experiment with that once you get the recipe down-pat.
Now, with your trout cleaned, prepared, and propped open on a cooking sheet or grate, you’ve got to get the grill going.
Get the Grill Ready
I cook on charcoal, so I’m going to do this assuming you are to.
Be sparing with how much charcoal you need, as though you’ll need to cook the fish low and slow, you still want a low temperature, between 200℉ and 250℉.Honestly, it’s cool if the grill is a little bit hotter, between 275℉ and 300℉. Just be aware that if you smoke on a hotter grill you’ll need to get the fish off sooner because nothing is worse than overcooked fish.
Light the coals evenly and once they’re about half-glowing and you’re over 200℉ you should be ready to start smoking. You don’t need the coals to be all evenly red for two reasons.
One, you don’t want a rip-roaringly hot bed to smoke on, and two, because if you start smoking before the coals are fully lit, they’ll smoke a bit more and you’ll be able to capitalize on this extra flavor.
You’ll also need to prepare some smoking chips at this stage. Use store-bought mesquite or a fruit wood; heavier woods are usually overpowering for fish.
But I’m going to play the hypocrite here, because I had a lot of seasoned oak ready. Oak is a little powerful for fish, but I cut up some chips and used these for smoking.
While the grill is heating up, a trick you can follow if you want the wood chips to smoke longer is to soak them in warm water. This will prevent them from burning quickly and will force them to smoke longer, improving the economy of each chip.
You don’t have to do that but it will help stretch your supply if it is limited.
Once the grill is past 200℉, throw some chips on the hot areas and get the trout on there.
Cook TIll Done; Usually Between 1.5 and 2 Hours
Now you need to be patient and watch the temperature. You don’t want the temperature to exceed 300℉ but if it drops below 200℉ you’ll burn all day trying to cook the trout. Aim for 225℉.
If you notice the grill getting too hot, close the lower damper a little. If it’s getting too cold, open the lower damper all the way and open the top damper a little bit.
You will need to check every 10 minutes or so to make sure there is still smoke pouring from the top vent. If it isn’t, it means your chips are spent. Open the grill and wedge a few more wood smoking chips between the grill’s grates to keep it smoking.
Depending on how hot your grill is, whether you’re cooking over direct heat or not, and how big your trout are, it’ll take somewhere between an hour and a half and two and a half hours for the fish to cook fully.
There are a few ways you can tell if your trout are done. For one, looking in the cavity you will notice that the meat is opaque.
You can also look at the fish’s eyes. Once they start to turn white the fish is well on the way to being done. Pay attention also to the fish’s skin. It will take on a deep golden-brown tint and become stiff and leathery.
Once you notice this, the fish is likely done cooking. Take it off the grill and set it somewhere to cool a little bit, to the point that it won’t burn your fingers when you pull the meat. This will take somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes.
Pull the Meat
Once your trout have rested long enough that you can handle them, get a fork and a butter knife. You’ll be removing them one by one to a platter or cutting board on which you can pull the meat.
To start, hold the fish steady, either with your hand or with the fork, and use the tip of the butter knife to work under the skin at the edge near the cavity into the body.
Work the knife under the skin. It should peel back fairly easily without much trouble. Peel it away from the meat, down towards the tail, and remove any scraps that are left behind.
Use the tip of the knife to separate the top “loin” from the belly. Drive the knife in at the lateral line and twist it to force the upper filet up and away from the rack.
Be gentle because you don’t want any bones to come away in the process. If you do this carefully, you will be able to remove the entire upper loin without any bones, in more or less one motion.
The bottom filet, the “belly” is a little tougher to work with, and you’ll need to be careful so as not to dislodge any ribs which are going to want to shear away with the meat. You can eat trout bones, but they diminish the enjoyment of the meal and can be a choking hazard, too.
So, once the top filet is pulled away, use the fork to press down on the ribs where they join the rack, and scrape the meat down gingerly with the butter knife.
It will want to pull away from the rack, but you will notice that some ribs will likely come away with it. These you will want to remove by hand so they don’t end up in the smoked trout dip.
Remove all the boneless meat and place it in a bowl. At this point, I like to peel the skin away from the “cheek,” right beneath the eye. There is a delectable scallop of meat on both sides of the fish. This is fine in smoked trout dip but I like to treat myself to it before making the dip.
Flip the fish over and repeat the process. It’ll be a little hard to remove the skin on this side, since it was facing down while cooking, but you can follow the same procedure to get the skin and meat off. Just take your time.
Place all the plucked meat in a bowl and discard the rack of the trout.
Repeat this process until you have skinned and “deboned” each trout you smoked.
At this point, you should have what is more or less a fairly large bowl of boneless trout meat.
Mix the Ingredients
I keep this dip fairly simple. All you really need for it are mayonnaise, freshly cracked black pepper, paprika (I use smoked even though the fish is smoked) and horseradish. Other things I throw in from time to time are red pepper flakes or a bit of hot sauce of my choosing. That’s up to you.
Mix in mayonnaise until your dip is still crumbly but has a consistency that can be spread with a little work. Throw in a dollop of horseradish and taste it. When you like the way it tastes, start grinding freshly cracked black pepper over it, to taste. Throw in some smoked paprika.
You’re ready when you like the taste. This is all done to taste, it’s not a science. I go light on the mayonnaise and paprika, and heavy on the horseradish and pepper because I like it spicy.
That’s All There Is to the Best Smoked Trout Dip You’ve Never Had (Yet)
Personally, this is the best smoked trout dip I’ve ever had, and of course I could be biased because I caught the trout and even cut my own woodchips. The fruits of your own efforts are inevitably sweeter than those of your neighbor’s.
Bias or not, there are so many ways to enjoy this smoked trout dip. Put it on a bagel, make a sandwich out of it, or eat it straight.
Or, perhaps the best way of all to enjoy it, is to spread it on crackers or oatcakes.
Try it and see how you like it best yourself.
~The Eclectic Outfitter