Benjamin Franklin once said that “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days”. He was characteristically correct but failed to expand on what one can do to avoid such a quandary. Dismissing foul-odored company is much harder than preventing that rank musk of aging fish flesh. Why? Because we can actually eat fish, which can and should be done well before three days of securing it. And if you really want your fish experience of eating fish to enter the realm of the gods, you enjoy a majestic trout as soon as possible after ethically catching it. We’ll be keeping things simple, as far too many recommendations require you to bring more materials than Everest-summiteers require.
There’s always a reward in bringing a trout home, but otherwise you’ll want serenity, nature, hell all out isolation (from strangers, not your company of course). It may sound like a no-shit Sherlock tip, but catching a beautiful trout only to honor it surrounded by RVs, screaming kids and a Top 40 playlist dampens the experience. Seek tree coverage that dwarfs you and provides an echo of the crackle that only fire can bring. You want to hear the creatures the very trout you’re about to nourish yourself with, called its neighbors. If you can forge your fire by the water in which you claimed your prize, even better.
The Cooking Gear
This is written with backpacking in mind. If your fishing excursion is a day trip close to home, and you want to bring a grill rack, tongs, cutting board, sourdough loaf with bread plate, lawn chair and a bottle of bourbon, have at it. Otherwise, the following should work just fine sliding into your rucksack:
- 15”-18” sheet of Aluminum Foil
- Metal or wood fork (only if preferred and your trout is large, 12”+)
- Good knife for gutting your fish and fileting after cooking
A backup foil sheet couldn’t hurt, and your knife will be needed for basic slicing & chopping, then gutting & cleaning your catch.
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 lemon
- 1 Tbsp. salted butter
- Seafood herb medley – Dill, parsley, thyme, chives, rosemary, basil, or even lemongrass are excellent choices.
If you are a garlic fiend, and the trout is large enough, feel free to double up on the cloves. Herb medleys can typically be found in grocery stores, but if not, any of rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley or tarragon will elevate your meal. Butter isn’t an absolute must, but if you have a small container in which to house it, the payoff with the natural trout oils is dreamy. If you may be away from refrigeration for over a day, olive oil is a stellar butter replacement.
How to Cook Your Campfire Trout
- Build a fire using your preferred method (teepee, log cabin, or just stacking shit until it burns are all appropriate takes). Let the fire die down to coals. Alternatively, move larger logs to expose a coal bed large enough to fit your trout.
- Gut and clean trout, removing head if desired*
- Place trout centered on foilsheet
- Cut lemon in to 4-6 slices
- Finely chop garlic or just smash to release garlic oils
- Coat both sides of your catch and cavity with butter or oil
- Stuff cavity with lemon and garlic and herb medley
- Generously season cavity and both sides of your fish with salt and pepper
- Firmly but carefully press down on the trout to marry all ingredients
- Enshrine trout very tightly in foil
- Lay your foil-wrapped trout across the coalbed and Cover foil-wrapped trout in coals
- Cook for 10-15 minutes**
If you’ve not gutted and cleaned a fish, check an excellent explanation here. When it comes to the head, let experience play a role. If you have never handled fish head, don’t feel ashamed to discard it. They often require more prolonged boils, and there’s genuine labor in getting to the parts that are both flavorful and edible.
**Cook time can vary based on fire & coal status, trout size, and personal preference. If your fire is new with few coals, you have a 14” trout, and you despise working around the small bones that maybe won’t soften, cook in the 15-20 minute range. If you have coals for days and a small/moderate catch, the 10-12 minute range should suffice. Regardless, you will likely encounter bones, but they are easily worked around when cooked properly. Eating with fingers eases this even further.
And just like that, you will have enjoyed a meal in almost the exact manner our ancestors did. Take some pride in what you’ve accomplished. Food delivery apps and garbage plates from buffets are not going anywhere, and yet you still opted to do the harder thing, for the better thing. Let us know how it turned out!