Smoked Lake Trout
A recipe featured in the Outdoor News Taste of the Wild
Photo and recipe by Jamie Carlson
My first experience with lake trout came about 10 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 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.
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. In my opinion, one of the best ways to eat it is by smoking it. The oils in the fish that many complain about make it a perfect vessel for holding smoke.
I have worked out a great recipe for a dry brine and cook time for smoking the fish. Lake trout served up with some pickled onions and whole grain mustard is one of my favorite snacks to enjoy.
Smoked Lake Trout
Two whole trout fillets
1 cup kosher salt
½ cup maple sugar
2 teaspoons dried sumac
2 teaspoons ground juniper berries
Combine the salt, sugar, sumac, and juniper 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 dry and slightly tacky. Fire up your smoker and set the temperature to 180 degrees. If you are using a Traeger grill or other brand pellet grill, the smoke setting should be good. Smoke over Alder for 3-4 hours. If you prefer your smoked fish a bit drier you can go longer.
If you plan on storing the smoked fish, keep it under refrigeration at 38 degrees F or less.
A note from the kitchen: You can go through the process of preparing your own dried sumac and ground juniper, but you may be surprised to learn these are readily available in most spice aisles at the grocery store. If you do elect to harvest, dry and grind your own, as with all foraged wild food, be certain of plant species. While all native species of juniper are safe to harvest from, some imported species can be toxic. If you aren’t sure, check with an experienced forager or biologist in your area.
Also note that you should not let fresh fish sit longer than two hours at room temperature after cleaning and before smoking it, and that it’s important when using frozen fish to make sure it’s thoroughly thawed out since the salt can’t penetrate into the tissue when it’s frozen.