At this time of the year, during late winter spawning runs of trout fresh from Lake Toe-paw, TRM’s electric commercial smokehouse becomes much more important. I was reminded on Sunday when we discovered the wood chips supply was just about exhausted.
But first we need to remind you just how special “smoked trout” are. You cannot buy smoked trout anywhere in NZ. You cannot buy trout either. You have to catch them yourself. That makes them rather “special” as a delicious ready-to-eat gourmet food. But when you also smoke them yourself it puts you up there with the best gourmet chefs. So when you return from TRM with vacuum packed smoked trout you really have something quite unique and everyone will love you..
They can be prepared and served in so many different ways – the various smoked trout recipes deserve a report all of their own. We have had them made (by Lizzie) in a dip, on toast or on crispbread with many different salads, or fritters, or tartines, or rillettes… My favourite is on crackers with sliced avocadoes or fresh asparagus (accompanied by a cold crisp Felton Road Riesling). Heaven! They are all sooooo delicious.
These are a guide only.
Some timing flexibility needs to be considered depending on the following factors.
Inside the smokehouse the more observant might have noticed rows of nails across the rafters. This is where they used to hang the trout for a day or two before smoking – a relic from the days before deep freezing was possible. Then the flesh dried out and reduced the time factor considerably. The idea was to make the flesh flaky dry and concentrate the moreish taste. So if your trout is fresh out of the river remember it might still be more ‘soggy’ and may need to smoke longer.
2 Size matters:
Obviously larger fish will take longer. The most common treatment is to gut the trout and cut through the ribs to lie the trout on the skin which some refer to as “butterfly” fillets. The time will reduce if the trout are filleted around the ribs and presented without skin. It should be basically common sense but sometimes the strong cup of revival tea makes fishos forgetful.
Obviously one trout will take less time than twenty. So adjust the time accordingly. If in doubt check the smoker after – say 3 hours? – and if they look like they need more smoke treatment then add some kindling for another hour.
The old smoker used to have all manner of adjustments but over many years of constantly having to fix it we have now what we call a “man proof” oven. There is one simple switch only. Down is on. Up is off. OK? Those expert chefs who insist on 222 degrees or have to know the exact temperature etc. are sent to Toe-paw – Farmers Discount Meats – the big butcher shop in the Paetiki Shopping Centre on the corner of Rifle Range Road and Taharepa Road. Also if you are planning to take them back to West Island wherever they will vacuum pack it with export certification. TRM oven time factor for smoking is best measured in pints. A quick smoke might take two pints. A longer smoke might take a few more.
Do not try to smoke trout that are not in absolutely peak condition. Avoid anything marginal or slabby or skinny. Avoid Brown Trout. They are never as good as Rainbow Trout. Younger trout are better than tired old hogs. Firm orange flesh colour is best. Having said that, we have had tastings where the guests could not tell the difference between Lake O and Toe-paw trout. They are all good.
This is more important than most realise. TRM locates tracks where contractors have widened the access by slashing down the tops off all the Manuka. Then we wait several months until it completely dries off. Sometimes it might take over a year. Only the tops of the trees are suitable. Only native Manuka qualifies for TRM. Some more picky inmates arrive with their own hewn chips from Apple, Peach, Plum, Nectarine, whatever. Most hard-woods are fine but some are better than others.
Some prefer to soak the trout in brine or gently rub on brown sugar and salt mix for about an hour (to absorb the moisture?) before smoking. Others who went to a different school prefer a light dash of single malt whiskey and maple syrup or Manuka honey plus a blend of secret spices and herbs. To everyone their own. Truth is they all taste great. The wood chips selection is arguably more important.
8 Wood treatment:
We are often asked how we manage to mash all the dried out tops into small chips suitable for maximum smoke generation. A full load of bushy Manuka tops is reduced down to about two buckets of chips by charging into them with a standard rotary lawn mower and emptying the catcher into the buckets. So now you know. Amount of chips needed for smoking varies from about one handful for a single fillet to up to about five handfuls plus some thicker stems to generate smoke longer for a full load.
9 Which trout?
Lake Toe-paw Rainbow trout are the best in the world. Why? Look at their 100% pure diet of smelt – aka whitebait, and koura – fresh water crayfish. They are what they eat. Evidence: Last season I was lugging a 6 pound plus perfect fat Rainbow trout across a paddock from a remote river not too far from here (It was so long ago I have forgotten the name) when I met the farmer. In typical TRM generous spirit of kindness, for allowing us access, I offered him this splendid fresh trophy trout. Nah he retorted – we only eat Toe-paw trout. OK?
10 TRM’s procedure:
(SWMBO has just bought another large baking tray for placing on the electric element to burn the chips, as the last expensive cast iron frying pan went missing? If this one goes missing then you had better bring your own… It is also recommended to leave the light on when you are smoking your trout so others realise the smoker is in use and will not open the door for a squiz… And don’t forget to turn it off afterwards.
Last, be flexible as everyone has their own best trout smoking recipe. They are all good and some are better than others.