Fishing for ways to cook trout

My trout column is online, and in today’s paper. Remember, I don’t come up with all of the headlines.

It can be intimidating, making it all the way to the far end of the Columbia Farmers Market lineup. By then I’m usually loaded down with veggies and meats and wishing I’d brought the wagon to help haul everything back to the car. But there at the end, near the honey ice cream and earnest musicians, you’ll find Merritt Van Landuyt, selling the Troutdale Farm trout you really should be eating more of.

Merritt and her husband, Dennis, purchased Troutdale Farm in 2002 from the Gates family, who had operated the hatchery since the 1950s. They’re located in Gravois Mills —near Versailles — and raise trout in man-made streams called raceways that mimic the fish’s natural environment.

In terms of eating, trout can be a bit intimidating in its own right. They’re bony, it’s true, but that can be avoided with a little care and practice. It’s well worth the effort.

“Trout is the glamour fish,” wrote culinary icon James Beard in his work on cooking fish, James Beard’s New Fish Cookery. “They are beautiful, they are perfectly meated, and in many places they are scarce.”

Trout, however, are not scarce in Missouri. They require cool, highly oxygenated water and can be caught in many Missouri streams as well as a number of areas managed by the Department of Conservation. And while there’s probably no better way to prepare them than to pull them from the water and sauté with bacon, the modern home cook has considerably more options at his or her disposal — Merritt and Dennis make sure of that. One thing I’ve tried recently was a faux preservation technique I stumbled upon at MenuInProgress.com, an excellent food and cooking blog.

“We have been smoking a lot of trout lately,” the bloggers wrote. “And while it is fantastic all by itself, we enjoy it even more after it has been sitting in olive oil for a few days.”

I was, pardon the pun, hooked, and I liked the idea of doing the hard work up front. Using the MenuInProgress.com post as a rough guide, I smoked two trout from Troutdale Farm, pulled the surprisingly ample meat from the bones and packed it in a pint jar, topping everything with olive oil.

The test came this past weekend, when the smoked trout in olive oil went public. Twelve discerning guests — in town celebrating Mother’s Day — stood around our kitchen table, greedily scooping trout onto little toasts. We went through one batch, then a second. Toddlers loved it; a picky 10-year-old did too. And, most important, it got the seal of approval from the guests of honor — the moms themselves.

One note: if you don’t have a smoker, a Weber grill can be used, though regulating temperature and the amount of smoke will prove more difficult.

SMOKED TROUT IN OLIVE OIL

2 trout

3 cups cold water

6 tablespoons kosher salt

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 minced garlic cloves

A large pinch of allspice

Olive oil

Place all ingredients except olive oil in a plastic bag and shake to mix. Refrigerate for one hour, then remove fish and let dry. Preheat the smoker to 200 degrees and smoke fish until flaky, two to three hours. Let cool, and pull meat from the bones. Place meat in a Mason jar and pour on enough olive oil to cover, making sure olive oil is distributed throughout the jar. Refrigerate until needed.

Note: To serve, I mixed a cup of the trout with chopped watercress, though arugula, mizuna or another spicy green would be delicious as well. Serve with toasted and thinly sliced, high-quality bread; I used batard from Uprise Bakery.

Scott Rowson works in communications at the University of Missouri, lives and eats in Columbia and writes about it in showmeeats.com Reach him at showmeeats@gmail.com.

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Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

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