A couple of weeks ago, I headed over to Lake Michigan for a whole week of fishing the big lake. I had fished over there before, but this year I got the opportunity to go out with a couple of friends and do the fishing myself and not go out on a guided fishing charter. The difference between the two experiences is incredible, and as much I have enjoyed the chartered fishing trips, I much prefer doing it myself.
Over the course of the week, we managed to catch a good variety of fish. Several Coho salmon, some rainbows, some king salmon and a couple of Lake trout. I have heard a lot of mixed reviews about eating Lake trout. Some people really enjoy them, but just as many seem to think they are too oily or too fishy tasting. I fall into the category of people who enjoy eating lake trout. I don’t catch very many of them so when I do get one it is a special treat.
My first experience with lake trout came several years ago, in the Boundary waters canoe area in northern Minnesota. I wrapped a whole fish in tin foil with some lemon and bay leaves stuffed inside and seasoned it very simply with salt and pepper. I placed the whole thing on the fire and let it cook for about 10 minutes on each side. The meat flaked off the bones beautifully and was one of my most memorable backcountry meals. The next year, I went back and prepared another lake trout the same way only this time I stirred the flaked meat into a risotto for another great backcountry meal.
I had heard from a lot of people that the best way to eat lake trout was to smoke them but because the only place I had ever caught them was the Boundary waters, I could never bring any home to try smoking. I started looking for lakes outside of the BWCA that held Lake trout and found one just north of Brainerd, Minnesota, near my brother’s place. I made a trip up there and managed to catch a few lakers. I brought them home and immediately fired up the smoker. Those Lake trout smoked over alder were some of the best smoked fish I had ever eaten.
When I got home from my trip to Lake Michigan with a Lake trout in the cooler I knew ahead of time that I was going to smoke it. I have worked out a great recipe for a dry brine and cook time for smoking the fish. I also have a new Traeger Grill that I have been anxious to try smoking on. The Traeger has a smoke function on it that keeps the temperature ranging between 160 and 170 degrees with is just about perfect for smoking fish. Lake trout served up with some pickled onions and whole grain mustard is one of my favorite snacks. If you are interested in trying something just a little different try using the smoked lake trout to make Rillettes which is a preparation similar to a pate. Served up with some fresh radishes and toasts it is sure to be a crowd pleaser.
Smoked Lake Trout
Two whole trout fillets
1 cup kosher salt
½ cup maple sugar
2 tsp sumac
1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
Combine the salt, sugar, sumac, and rosemary and rub it onto the fillets. Let the fillets sit in the fridge for 4–5 hours, depending on the thickness of the fillets. After the fillets have cured, rinse them clean and pat dry with a paper towel. Let the fillets sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to form what is called a pellicle. The fillets should be slightly tacky. Fire up your smoker and set the temperature to 160 degrees. If you are using a Traeger grill or other style pellet grill, the smoke setting should be good. Smoke over Alder for four hours. If you prefer your smoked fish a bit drier you can go longer.
Smoked Lake trout Rillette
8 ounces of smoked fish
4 tablespoons softened butter
¼ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon chopped chives
½ tsp fresh thyme
½ tsp white pepper
Salt to taste
Using a paddle attachment on a kitchen mixer combine all the ingredients until smooth, Serve with crackers and radishes.