A lot of fisherman I know say they don’t like trout. They sure seem to like hooking them though.
Me? I love eating trout. I have easy access to a lot of them in the stream and mountain lakes around my Colorado home, and they taste like pale salmon when cooked properly.
I think most people that “don’t like trout” actually just don’t like cleaning fish. And honestly, neither do I. So I take the path of least resistance and skip the filleting. I cook the fish whole.
Cooking whole is easier and makes better use of the fish. Filleting leaves some meat on the skeleton, but whole fish cooking allows you to enjoy it all, including the rich cheek and collar meat.
- A thin, wide metal spatula
- A cast-iron or stainless steel pan wide enough for the length of your fish
- Paper towels
- 1 whole trout, scaled, gutted and rinsed
- ¼ cup unbleached white flour
- 3 Tbsp + 1 Tbsp. fine-grain salt
- 1 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup avocado oil
- Pat the trout dry inside and out with a paper towel or tea towel.
- Rub 3 Tbsp. salt into the skin. Coat the fish evenly and let sit for 10-30 minutes.
- Mix remaining salt, black pepper and flour in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Wash salt from trout and dry again with paper towels.
- Using a small, sharp knife, cut slits in the side of the trout paralleling the ribs. To start, find a spot about 1 inch away from the head of the fish towards the tail. Poke the tip of the knife in about ¾-in from the spine of the fish and bring it down to within ¾-in of the belly. Repeat every inch until the tail narrows to an inch or so wide. Repeat on the other side.
- Ensure that the fish is still completely dry and coat fish with salt/pepper/flour mixture. Set aside on a plate.
- Heat pan over medium to medium-high heat. Coat the pan with ¼ inch of oil.
- When oil is heated, shake excess flour from the fish and lay it down in the hot oil. The fish should immediately curl up away from the pan. This is okay. It will relax and even if it doesn’t, press it down with the spatula in a minute. The tail is thinner and takes less time to cook, so it’s okay if it curls up.
- After a minute, use the spatula to gently press the fish into the pan. If the fish is stubbornly curling, hold light pressure on the fish with the spatula to establish the sear on as much of the skin as possible. If the pan is smoking, turn the heat down. If the fish isn’t sizzling, turn the heat up slightly.
- Most fish need 5-6 minutes per side, but fish smaller than 10 inches should flip a bit sooner. When ready to flip, test the fish with the spatula, jabbing gently under the fish from the spine side. The fish should stick slightly, if at all. If the pan seems dry, add more oil.
- Loosen the skin completely so that the fish is able to slide around in the pan. Once loose, flip the fish away from you onto the other side. (If the side you were just frying isn’t browned, don’t panic and don’t move it. You can flip it back over later, but for now the other side needs to set.)
- Cook another 5-6 minutes until golden brown. Skin should be pulling away from the spine and the fish should have a hard crusty fried skin.
- Prepare a plate covered with paper towels and lift the fish out onto the plate.
- Serve on platter surrounded by dipping sauces, limes, lemons and forks.
For a group, I like to put the fish(es) in the middle and use a large fork to lift sections away onto individual’s plates. Rib bones will sometimes come along for the ride here, but just scrape along the meat side to find them and remove.
Once you’ve taken all the meat off one side, don’t try to flip the fish. Instead, grab the tail and start lifting it towards the head. If you’ve done everything right, it should pull away from the fillet underneath without too much resistance. Use a fork to loose the fillet from the bones as needed. Once you have the skeleton lifted up to the head zone the head should pull up with the rest of the bones. Discard.
Scrape at the underlying fillet to test for any remaining rib bones and remove as required.