Saturday, January 06, 2007

Filleting & smoking trout, or, how I earnt my man-badge this summer

Nothing says "I'm a man, despite my advanced knowledge of interior decorating" than catching, filleting and smoking trout. Paul, an avid, accomplished fisherman (and full-time man), gave me a trout in December. Having spent most of my life buying my fish pre-filleted and never having smoked one either, it seemed the perfect time to resurrect it from the freezer and to give vent to my inner hunter/gatherer (who, in a previous life, would have lived in a very well appointed cave).

Having thawed the trout, it was time to start. Paul had gutted it, leaving me with the descaling, removing the head and filleting. The first two actions were reasonably straight forward; the filleting posed more of a challenge. The aim was to remove the fillets from the rib cage and the backbone to create a butterfly fillet (you'll see what I mean soon). After wiping the trout down to prevent slippage, I began by placing the knife where the head was and running the knife between the rib cage and the flesh, with the tip of the blade moving along the backbone. Once you reach the tail, repeat this process on the other side.

Such skill! Witness the precision of the knife-wielder...

...and witness the true source of his power. Not having the foggiest idea of how to fillet fish, I found this (PDF file) on a website which took you through the process, gutting and filleting, step-by-step. It even had video clips you could stream or download demonstrating the actions. Having found it, the laptop was placed on the kitchen bench, close at hand, for assistance. For a beginner, the file was very helpful and I'm sure there are plenty of other resources, online or otherwise, that would be equally useful.

Once you have your two connected fillets (a butterfly fillet), you can remove the backbone, ribs and tail by simply pulling it off. Despite the clean-looking shot above, the bench looked like a crime scene. The first fillet (the bottom one in the photo) was relatively easy to remove; the other was damn awkward. My knife wasn't close enough to the rib cage and in the process of getting it back there, I kept leaving wee chunks of flesh behind - it looked very messy, certainly not the tidiest fillet in the world. If I ever come across you in a grievously wounded state, requiring immediate emergency field surgery, whether it's on the battlefield, a car crash or some industrial accident, take the knife off me and send me to fetch boiling water and towels - you won't regret it.Now to prepare the fillets. After separating them, put them aside and grab a bowl into which you'll put two tablespoons of salt and a cup of brown sugar. Mix thoroughly and then sprinkle liberally over the flesh side of your two fillets. Straight away, it'll start to absorbe the excess moisture of your fish. The mixture serves as a buffer to the smoke. Don't be concerned if it seems you have a lot of the salt and sugar mixture; the excess will run off.

Now cover your fillets and place in the fridge overnight.

One of three furry, four-legged seagulls that infest my kitchen.

And now for the final leg of this experiment : the smoking of the fillets. The reason why we're smoking in this instance is to improve the flavour of the trout. Smoking is also performed to cook, as well as preserve foods (this is a very useful Wikipedia link about smoking in all its forms - I never knew Lapsang souchong tea was smoked to give it its flavour!). You can smoke almost anything - fish, chicken and other white meat, red meat and even fruit (doesn't this sound exotic - I might give it a whirl during the apple harvest).
Here, I used manuka chips. Sprinkle one or two handfuls of chips over the base of the smoker - don't use anymore than this otherwise it imparts a bitter taste to the fish.
Pull your fillets out of the fridge a good hour or so before you start to cook. Pop the rack into the smoker and then place your fillets on top of that.

The burner section of the smoker has two little dishes for the methylated spirits. Pour enough so as to reach the halfway point, which provides fuel for around twelve to fifteen minutes (my time might be a little out - I am new to this).

Now at this point, I have to share a story with you. Millions of years ago when I was in the fifth form at high school, Miss Smith, my English teacher, shared a (somewhat apocryphal) story about a famous New Zealand writer. At the height of his alcoholism, and when money was tight, the gentleman would resort to drinking methylated spirits. To render it drinkable(ish), he would pour the meths through a couple of layers of burnt toast, filtering out the methanol and emetics which would ordinarily make you ill. I'm not sure how accurate this tale is, or if the chemistry is sound but it's an image that's stuck with me since I was 15 (that, and fragments of a poem he wrote about explosions and the beach - I can't for the life of me remember its name).

Light your meths.

Cleansing, purifying flame - cheers, Prometheus!

Pop the smoker on top of the burners, then take a peek through the little air holes just to make sure the flames haven't gone out. Make sure the lid is secure and then leave it. It takes around twelve to fifteen minutes for the meths to burn up. Once the fire is out (again, take a peek through the air holes), take the smoker off the burners and remove the lid. Your fillets should have a rich, golden-caramel colour to them.

The flesh should be white; if it's opaque, it's undercooked. It should also have a slight sheen to it.

You HAVE to click on this photo - it looks delectable!

How do they taste? Delicious! Very moist and succulent. Sweet, but not overly so and this is probably due to the tempering effect of the manuka smoke. Watch out for bones as you're eating.
Smoked trout always tastes good on slices of toasted bread with a squeeze of lemon.

A big fireworks-laden 'thank you' to Jen, Paul, Doug and Kerry for their help in this post.


-Want to keep your hands fish smell-free? Clean them with a cut lemon or listen to my mum and rub them against the inside of your stainless steel kitchen sink (it's mentoned in the 'gutting fish' article I linked to earlier in this post - it works!)

-Don't have a smoker? Your barbecue will serve just as effectively, providing it has a firm lid or top of some description. Adapt the method shown accordingly

-A collection of recipes using smoked trout, courtesy of Cuisine magazine (scroll down past main article)

-From Kai Time (a magnificent show with the most mouth-watering food - watch it!): Smoked trout on spinach with freshwater koura (PDF file)

-Lucky last: line your smoker with foil before you scattter your sawdust - makes cleaning up afterwards that much easier (thank you, Ted)


ChrisB said...

I enjoyed this impressive post; the fish looks so delicious and worth the effort.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back! The smoked trout looks great. I have tried smoking salmon - once - disaster. Something I need to try again. Thanks for the instruction.

Mary said...

Mmm. Looks delish! Smoked fish is a favourite for a platter with toasted bread and other nibbly items. Great colour on the fillets too btw.

Barbara said...

Bloody brilliant. I'm impressed Nige.

Beccy said...

Looks delish, I love smoked fish.

Nigel Olsen said...

Guys, thank you all for your comments. It was indeed delicious; I kid you not, it had disappeared within the hour! Tim, I think you've just inspired me to be a little more ambitious with my smoking...

Bron said...

Hell that looks good!
I have to catch me some fish or alternatively find me a angler man friend!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post and great for future "annual fishing trips"

Carol said...

Very well done! I think this is how the "boys" in our family cooks their fish too. But they use charcoal instead of methyl to smoke it.