[From my Cooking from Scratch column.]
The sky is the pale pastel of pre-dawn and a hint of mist rises off the still, cobalt water. A horn sounds in the distance and the zip of fishing line being cast fills the air.
“Ahh! I got one!” I shout to my companions, as I inartfully fling my flopping trout up onto the rocky river bank. I beam like a child at my lucky catch, as my husband removes the hook from the fish’s mouth and skillfully slips him onto our stringer. Our son collects sticks nearby; our baby coos from a friend’s lap.
If this isn’t one of God’s own mornings, I don’t know what is.
All in all we caught seven trout that day, the first day of our sort-of-annual camping and fishing trip to Roaring River, Missouri. While the second day’s catch were destined for the smoker to be preserved for later, that first batch just had to be roasted fresh over that evening’s campfire.
Whether you acquire your trout from a transparent stream or over ice at your favorite grocery store, a quick roast over smoky coals will always make them taste better.
The following recipe is really perfect for camping, however, as it’s super simple and none of the ingredients — except perhaps the trout, which can easily be bagged and tossed in a cooler of ice — require refrigeration.
There’s just enough summer left for one good mess of these campfire trout.
Campfire Trout (Serves 4-6 people, depending on the size of the fish)
- 4 trout, as freshly caught as possible, gutted and with heads removed
- 4 tablespoons butter
- A large bunch of mixed fresh herbs, like rosemary, thyme and sage
- Salt and pepper
- 2-3 lemons
- Cotton “butcher’s” twine
This recipe can be cooked on a campfire grate or a grill. Either way, you’ll want to start the fire 30 minutes to an hour beforehand, so that you get some nice, hot coals. Once the coals are almost ready, you can begin preparing the fish.
Reserving just a few stems to use for garnish later, dice most of the herbs finely. Add about a teaspoon each of salt and pepper to the herbs, and mix to make a seasoning blend. Using a fork, mash the seasonings into the butter. Slice the lemons into thick rounds.
With a sharp knife, make about five diagonal, shallow slash marks into the skin of each fish. Stuff the fish with the herb-butter blend and several lemon slices. If your fish are small, you may have to cut the lemon slices in half. Placing a stem of the reserved garnish herbs on top, use the cotton twine to tie each fish closed.
Once all the fish are stuffed and tied, lay them out on your pre-heated grate or grill. The size of your fish will dictate the cooking time, but it should be in the ballpark of 20 minutes. Turn the fish once during cooking. You’ll know the fish are done when they flake when tested with a fork.
Serve with skewers of campfire roasted veggies, like peppers, onions and potatoes.