Smoke fresh caught fish

After I felt the trout flop in my back pocket, I knew that I had to do something.

See, I had not fished in about 20 years. Not since my father took me to a Jersey pond stocked with sunnies of a friend’s household. He would hook and rehook (and then rehook) the bait worm. He would solidify the road. He would unhook the fish, drop it into a bucket and let me watch it swim before we released it back into the water. I would spend more time in our tackle field, bewildered by the different colours and scents of power bait. It could have been that soccer and tee ball took up all my time, or it might have been the amount of road clearing my father had to do. We stopped fishing together.

My friend Jason invited me to a fishing trip in Snow Shoe, Pennsylvania this year. Jason’s dad, Dave, along with a few other generations of Jason’s buddies, share a camping spot on private property. The Poles were from the Pittsburgh area and spent their time drinking photographs of Leroux “Jezynowka” Blackberry Brandy.

On a morning of Jezynowka, I caught my first trout using a hook that I had tied and baited using a wriggling nymph. Dave removed the hook using pliers and placed the 14-inch fish into a plastic zip-top bag. He rolled the bag up and tucked it into the back pocket of my vest after the fish had settled. My first-catch would remind me that it had not given up, by flopping against my lower back, every time I caught another one.

If you’ve never fished, the situation might seem horrifying. I now know why my dad might have cut short our fishing trips. You have a responsibility to treat an animal rightly when it dies by your hands. You might have a duty to honor the sacrifice.

You can eat fish without guilt thanks to our modern industrial food system. Fish is available in nugget form. The fillets in the grocery store don’t have any organs or heads to remove. How many people would recognize an entire tilapia in a line-up?

This disassociation from our food is a problem for me. This removes the responsibility associated with the death. It’s nice to feel guilty. You can absolve yourself of guilt by carefully preparing your meal.

Dave did not say anything when Jason and I were cleaning our trout near the camp at the end of the day. Jason told his father, “It’s a lot work.” He grunted with an intonation that sounded like “Accurately.”

After I brought my share of freshly caught trout home from Snow Shoe I thought they deserved an appropriate afterlife. One that involved a little extra effort and time.

I asked Chef Andrew Evans from Maryland’s The BBQ Joint to share his best smoked whitefish recipe. The brine-and -smoke method requires a half-day of preparation and cooking but the results are heavenly.

The entire trout was eaten straight from the smoker. We used our fingers to remove the flaky, tender meat. Our faces were filled with smiles as we licked our sticky fingers.

The smoked trout was so delicious that I realized this morning I had forgotten to save some for my father.

Oh, well. Next time we’ll all catch one together.

Smoked white fish with Brine
Andrew Evans, chef/proprietor at The BBQ Joint Easton in Maryland, shares his recipe.

What you will want:
Clean 10-12 white fish fillets
4 cups of water
Half a cup of sea salt
Half a cup of sugar
Juice of 2 Lemons
2 Bay Leaves
Half a tablespoon of crushed peppercorns
Six sprigs of thyme
6 sprigs Italian Parsley
Oregano, 6 sprigs

How to make it?

  1. Make the brine. Bring the water in a medium-sized pot to a rolling boil. Add the sugar, salt and stir until dissolved. Remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to cool for about 20 minutes. Add the bay leaves, herbs, crushed peppercorns and lemon juice. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Submerge the fish in the brine. For smaller fish (less than 16 inches), brine the fish for 2 to 3 hours. For larger fish (greater 16 inches), brine them for 6 to 10 hours.
  3. Smoke the fish at 225degF for about an hour, or until the internal temperature reaches 160degF.

Remove from the smoker and serve hot or cold.