It’s trout season my friends. Have you ever stood in a cool stream in the early spring, outfitted in a pair of rubber waders with a nine-foot fly rod in one hand, a beer cozy in the other? If you haven’t, it’s a sensational feeling. Although our East River is limited in the way of fresh, fat, glossy trout... your local fish store will provide you with adequate dinner fixins.
Now, follow me to a river that weaves though Montana’s Bear Tooth Mountains, where icy peaks tower above tree-lined riverbanks. The trout are savvy of our presence, but hunger overrides their wisdom. Just below the water’s surface, shimmers of silver heighten our senses as we cast into the one-way highway of trout. As my friend feels her rod pulsing, she shrieks in excitement, frightening every fish in earshot. Fifteen feet downstream, a big, beautiful rainbow slips out of the river and into the air, a hook fastened to its gills. We net it, release the hook and set it into the cold muddy earth beside the river. It flops around, begging for water — our challenge now is to kill the poor creature humanely. My friend sings a Jewish prayer and with a heavy tree branch and an amen, she begins whacking it repeatedly. We take turns thumping it with the stick, damaging its little flesh…
It took us nearly five minutes to end the trout’s life and by that time, our sense of guilt had trumped our appetite. Our day’s triumph felt more like defeat. But in accordance with Native American tradition, I gutted it, stuffed its body cavity with thyme, lemon and salt and fried it in butter. Catch and release is for the weak.
Chef Says: When you’re shopping for whole fish, there are a few ways to tell whether or not it’s fresh. The eyes should be bright and bulging, not gray and glossy. The gills should be bright red, not maroon. The skin should bounce back when you press it with a finger (do it while the seller isn’t watching). Lastly, it should never smell fishy.
Whole Stuffed Trout
1 whole trout
(sliced in 1/4 inch rounds)
2 sprigs thyme
A pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Sprinkle the inside of the fish with salt. Place the lemon slices in the body cavity, slightly overlapping. Add the sprigs of thyme and drizzle with olive oil. Rub the outside of the fish with a little olive oil as well. Place the trout on a baking sheet and place in the oven for 8 minutes. It’s done when the skin begins to brown and curl around the edges of the belly. The flesh should still be moist and slippery.