Lemony Skillet-Seared Rainbow Trout
Although I live in New York City now, I was born and raised in Colorado. Went to college there too because I wanted to keep skiing and climbing 14ers and producing the overabundance of red blood cells that characterize those raised high above sea level. Back then I was also really, really into backpacking and camping. So when I was given the opportunity to review Sarah Huck and Jaimee Young's new book Campfire Cookery, I took it as an opportunity to revisit that former life.
However, when I started reading the book, after being taken with the whimsical, chatty tone, I realized that Huck and Young have a slightly different definition of camping than the one I'd used growing up near the Rockey Mountains. In their introduction, they sum up their outdoor cooking philosophy rather nicely when they write "Frankly, we've never understood why outdoor holidays inspire austerity when nature itself is not austere." I'll tell you why. Because when camping far from your car, you're usually carrying all of your gear with you, on your back, for miles and miles and miles. In this case, lugging along a cast-iron skillet and a 5-quart Dutch oven with lid, both of which will come in handy when using this book, is just not going to happen. Instead, you might find yourself making due with something like the boiled noodles topped with a can of Hormel chili I fondly remember gobbling up at the foot of the Maroon Bells my senior year of college. (I know, in hindsight, that was disgusting.)
On the other hand, if you're camping close to the car, or at one of those camps where you can drive in, have a little cottage all set up for you, and don't need to worry about pruning every ounce from your pack, then you should listen up. Or, if you like the idea of subbing in a grill for a campfire and making all of your food directly on it, that's another root you can take. And actually, the root I did take. Because instead of preparing these recipes in the Colorado mountains, I made them along with my sister and her boyfriend, in Chicago. The views were great in both places.
So for the sake of argument for a moment, since I have two posts coming up about this book, let's say that you're not going to be outside except as far as perching on a high rise balcony is outside. Next post we'll talk about Huck and Young's amusing and strangely fascinating tips on building fires, cooking on fires and even pondering Essential Philosophical Quandaries around fires. But for now, I want to mention that when the authors instruct you to build a high-heat fire and let it burn for 30 minutes, you can also fire up the grill on high and go from there.
For this lunch with my sister and her boyfriend, we made three recipes, all of them from this book. Might as well start with the star of the show: Lemony Skillet-Seared Rainbow Trout. The official instructions (which I've excerpted below) say to prepare a high-heat fire for this one. But you can also prepare a high-heat grill and use a cast iron skillet to cook the fish.
Lemony Skillet-Seared Rainbow Trout
Excerpted (with permission) from Campfire Cookery (Stewart, Tabori & Chang; June 2011) by Sarah Huck and Jaimee Young
Whilst digging a fire pit, one is sure to turn up a few earthworms. Although we fling most of them into the forest to continue performing their duty for our ecosystem, we always save a few for the fishing pole, in hopes of luring tasty rainbow trout from the cool, clean waters near camp. When fishing for trout, one must always plant one's feet firmly upon the riverbank, as their shimmering, colorful skin is uncannily similar to a mermaid's sequined sheath. While the former is destined for the frying pan, the latter draws unassuming fishermen toward tragedy with irresistibly beautiful songs, this flaky, white fish, with a simple lemon-butter dressing, requires only a few moments upon the grill to shine.
Four 8- to 10-ounce whole rainbow trout, cleaned (see page 161, or ask the fishmonger to perform this task)
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly milled black pepper, to taste
4 small garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
1 small bunch fresh thyme
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and patted dry
1. Prepare a high-heat fire, with the flames licking the grill grate. Let it burn steadily for 30 minutes.
2. Slice 1 lemon very thinly; cut the remaining lemon into wedges.
3. Coat the outside of the fish with oil. Season the fish all over, inside and out, with salt and pepper. Stuff each fish with lemon sliced, garlic slices, and thyme. Top with butter cubes and capers.
4. Heat a cast-iron skillet over the grill grate until very hot. Carefully arrange the stuffed trout in the skillet and cook until the skin is crisp-golden and the flesh is opaque and flakes easily with a fork, 4 to 5 minutes per side.
5. Serve hot, with lemon wedges for squeezing over the fish.