You know me. You know I almost never tell you how to do anything.
There’s a good reason for that. If you want to learn how to do something, the best strategy, by far and away, is to learn from the people who spend a lot of time getting good at that one thing. Want to learn how to barbecue? My friend Meathead is your man. To preserve? Go to Mrs. Wheelbarrow.
Many’s the day I’ve wished for the fortitude, attention span, and consequent skill set of the Meatheads and Mrs. Wheelbarrows of the world. But I just don’t have ‘em. I have too much of the magpie in me, and I find myself constantly distracted by the next bright shiny project.
Kevin’s a bit like that, too, and we’ve learned to embrace that tendency. We are generalists. The downside is that we never do develop a Meatheadian skill set. The upside is that we get to do plenty of different stuff. So, instead of spending a lot of time getting good at one thing, we spend a lot of time getting mediocre at a bunch of things.
People like us, I’d like to think, live an interesting if disorderly life. We are, however, not the kind of people you want to learn from.
Every now and then, though, we get good at something. In this case, “we” is Kevin, who, this weekend, made the finest smoked trout I have ever tasted. It was so good that I am going to tell you exactly how he did it.
There’s no special trick. If you survey smoked trout recipes, you’ll find many of them are very similar to this. What makes it perfect are the details – the ratio of salt and sugar, the drying time, the smoking time and temperature. And because I know that you, too, would like to have the best smoked trout on the planet, here are those details.
1 two-pound trout, gutted but otherwise whole
FOR THE BRINE
1 cup kosher salt
½ cup brown sugar, unpacked (leave it fluffy)
½ gallon water
Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water, and put the trout in the brine. Refrigerate and let it brine for two hours.
Remove the fish, rinse it lightly, pat it dry, and put it in the refrigerator, uncovered and on a rack, for 24-36 hours. (This is to dry it.)
Smoke the fish using a grill or smoker, at about 180 degrees for two hours. To do this using a kettle grill, start a half-chimney’s worth of charcoal. When it’s completely lit, pile it on one side of the grill, and add two or three lemon-size chunks of hardwood (no need to soak them). Put the fish on the side of the grill away from the fire, as far away as it’ll go, with the belly side facing away from the coals. Cover the grill.
What’s critical is temperature. To keep the grill at 180 degrees, Kevin closes the vents about 80% of the way. Sometimes, though, the temperature is still too high. To do that, he puts an aluminum foil roasting pan with holes cut in the bottom over the pile of charcoal and wood.
After an hour, flip the fish, but still keep the belly away from the coals (because it’s the thinnest part). Add another couple of chunks of wood. Smoke for another hour.
ADDENDUM: One of the benefits of writing for the Washington Post’s (outstanding) food section is that I get free recipe editing! Deputy editor Bonnie Benwick reminded me (gently and graciously) that people might want to know how to store this, and how long it would last. Why, yes! They probably would. If you’re not going to use it warm, don’t take the meat off the fish. When it’s cool, wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. If you do take the meat off the carcass, and you have leftovers, put them in a ziploc bag or a bowl covered with plastic wrap. As for how long it might last, I’m afraid it doesn’t ever last long enough for me to know! If it’s more than a few days, use it in something you cook, like a pasta dish or a frittata, to make sure it’s heated through.