Due to their manageable size, even texture, and awesome flavor, trout are a perfect fish to hot-smoke. Great for a meal or an appetizer, smoked trout can also be combined with a plethora of other dishes including cheeses, soups, dips, and salads. Hot-smoking, with a higher temperature maintained throughout the smoking process, fully cooks the trout and adds powerful flavor; whereas cold-smoking is a slower method that preserves the fish, rather than simply cooking and flavoring it.
Hot-smoking is most excellent because it’s simple. Small-to-medium trout can be smoked whole, and thanks to the low, slow cooking process, the bones separate from the meat, making them easy to remove if you don’t filet the fish. Either way, it’s best to keep the skin on to keep the meat from drying out.
While there are a few schools of thought on what type of salt to use, I prefer pickling or kosher salt, as iodized salt can add a metallic flavor and turn the flesh a dingy color.
1/2-cup maple syrup (or substitute light brown sugar)
1/2-cup pickling salt (or substitute kosher salt)
2-4 Tbsp New Mexico red-chili powder (or substitute cayenne pepper)
4-6 cloves garlic whole (crush lightly with the flat part of a knife to release juices)
2 lemons sliced (squeeze a little juice into brine and also place lemon slices in with peels)
Clean trout prior to the brining process. Once prepped, lay the trout open in a glass cooking pan or plastic container—do not use metal as that can affect the flavor. Mix the brine in a separate bowl and pour over the fish, covering completely. Cover and place in the fridge 8-10 hours and ideally overnight.
Preheat your smoker to 225 F. Traditionally, alder is used with smoked fish and adds an outstanding flavor. If alder isn’t available, use a mild wood such as applewood or oak. Remove trout from brine and rinse in cold water. Pat dry, then place the trout on smoker racks in a manner that allows the smoke to get to the insides of the fish.
Smoke for 1-4 hours. After an hour, the trout will be juicy, tender, and ready to eat, but it won’t have the robust, caramelized flavor that will be attained after four hours of smoking. Since the fish isn’t preserved with this method, it needs to be refrigerated if you don’t serve it immediately. It will keep for 1-2 weeks in the refrigerator and can also be frozen for months. If freezing, remove the skin and bones.
Simon Peterson spends his summer evenings cooking extraordinary meals for custom fly-fishing trips at Montana Angler’s Boulder River Outpost, and prepares gourmet, riverside delights for trips down the Yellowstone and Smith rivers.