Simply Perfect

Rainbow trout ready for the grill. All photos by Wayne D. Lewis/CPW.
Rainbow trout ready for the grill. All photos by Wayne D. Lewis/CPW.

I’ve long thought, and it’s highly unlikely that I am alone in the thought, that bananas are the perfect food. They come in easy-to-carry bundles, are individually wrapped, with the biodegradable wrapper giving an extremely accurate and up-to-date report of the condition of the nutritious goodness within. But for the omnivore, carnivore or pescavore, what food comes close to the banana’s perfection?

Rainbow trout.
Rainbow trout.

My vote is for trout.

And I’m talking fresh-caught trout, not the store-bought kind. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with store-bought fish, but when you catch them you get the satisfaction of knowing freshness, and going fishing and bringing trout to the net is far more enjoyable than the bumper-cart madness of the grocery store. In addition, a stringer of rainbows, browns, brookies and/or cutthroats is much more satisfying to carry than a bunch of bananas. Once caught, trout are almost as easy to clean for the grill as bananas are to peel. Bass, bluegill, crappie, etc. are all delicious, but filleting them (for me anyway) is a far more arduous task. For years, I’ve released every fish I caught back to the water, but some tasty meals over the last year or so have me thinking, “the heck with catch and release, fish are for eating.”

I am not alone in this thought. “While there are certain waters in the state that we manage for wild fish and catch-and-release fishing is encouraged if not mandated, we stock the majority of waters with human consumption in mind,” said Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s (CPW) Chief of Hatcheries Matt Nicholl. “Every year we stock nearly 3 million catchable-sized trout primarily so anglers can catch them and eat them.”

And it’s not only trout. “Colorado Parks and Wildlife stocks a combination of 80-90 million warm- and cold-water fish into more than 1,200 lakes, streams and reservoirs,” said Nicholl. “The majority of these fish are fry and fingerlings that are stocked to grow to catchable size.”

It’s a symbiotic relationship between anglers and CPW. A few fishing trips can pay for the license when compared to buying fish by the pound at the store, and the license in turn pays for the fish CPW stocks. “Nearly all of funding for hatcheries in Colorado comes from license buyers and anglers,” said Nicholl. And that relationship benefits the state as a whole. According to Nicholl, “Fishing contributes over 1 billion dollars a year to the Colorado economy and is the lifeblood for many small communities who rely on anglers.”

Along with the economical impacts, there are healthy impacts from trout. Much like salmon, trout are categorized as an oily fish that has many health benefits, including lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids. A serving of rainbow trout contains more than 900 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids. This amount far exceeds the 250 milligram per day minimum that Seafood Watch recommends. A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids is linked to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, high blood cholesterol and certain types of cancer. Omega-3 fatty acid consumption may also help prevent neurological disorders like dementia, depression, bipolar disorder and Alzheimer’s disease. A 2008 study published in “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” indicated that people who obtained approximately 25 percent of their total caloric intake from lean protein sources like fish were more likely to lose weight, retain lean muscle mass and feel fuller after eating than people who received only 12 percent of their calories from protein.

On the journey from water to mouth watering, these fish are extremely easy to prepare for the plate. Julia Childs, Martha Stewart, Mario Batali, et al, can have recipes that go on and on, with ingredients you have to Google if you’re not a foodie. But all their trout recipes boil down to some basics: olive oil or butter, sea salt or coarse salt, pepper, and then a varying final ingredient such as oregano, lemon, garlic, onion or rosemary.

A fish basket makes grilling trout a breeze.
A fish basket makes grilling trout a breeze.

My preparation for a grilled whole trout is a breeze. Gut and thoroughly clean the trout leaving the head on. I remove the gills as well. Pat the fish dry, and coat with olive oil then season inside and out with salt and lemon pepper and a light dusting of garlic powder. Place on the grill (I use a fish-grilling basket) and cook over medium-high heat 12 to 15 minutes, turning every 3 to 4 minutes, until the skin is nearly charred and crispy, yet the flesh is still moist near the bone. Choose a simple side dish or two that won’t overpower the trout. May I suggest a banana?

Serve trout with simple side dishes to not overpower the taste of the fish.
Serve trout with simple side dishes to not overpower the taste of the fish.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Wayne,
    Great post about cooking trout and we learned this exact technique while visiting Anchorage,AK.
    My spouse is in energy research so our family flew to AK and were treated to fresh sockeye by his local colleagues. If you don’t catch your own fish in AK to eat then your not a true Alaskan.
    They pride themselves in a full freezer for winter & the prep of their fish.
    IMHO there is no better meal then a fresh Char family fish( salmon, trout, Char etc) grilled just like you described. We cooked fish all the time but never used a grill basket & putting Meyer lemon ( a sweeter lemon) will make your fish flavor incredible( sprouts or W F or TJoes) .
    Be sure and spray your grill basket or you may lose your fish when you try to remove it from the basket… My teen son’s favorite way to finish off almost 3/4lbs of sockeye or steelhead or any wild trout.
    Thanks for sharing and hope you can try it with Meyer lemon and dill( for salmon).

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