By John Hennessey
In Northwestern Wisconsin, there is a the Kinnickinnic River (“Kinni” for short).
My wife and I had the chance to fish on the Upper Kinni, a waterway that is 22 miles long, and is home to anywhere from 5,000 to 12,000 trout per mile, making it one of the most productive trout streams in the country.
Amid tight corridors, in a stream flanked by overhanging trees and other foliage, we practiced finesse casting with spinning tackle and tried our hand at Tenkara—the reel-less fly rod.
Wisconsin regulations don’t allow anglers to keep any trout over 12 inches. The logic: removing smaller trout means less competition for food, so big fish grow bigger.
By netting small trout and taking them home for a meal, anglers are actually helping trout populations. But the questions always remain: how does one get any meat off such small trout?
This recipe, which harnesses the flavor of garden fresh basil and tomatoes, is ideal for using a fresh trout, but can easily be adapted with fillets you have in the freezer.
Makes two servings of appetizers.
3 small brown trout, 6 to 10 inches, yielding 6 to 8 ounces total
8-inch loaf of French bread, sliced diagonally into 1-inch thick pieces
12 large cherry tomatoes
2 ounces fresh basil, chiffonade
1 teaspoon sea salt, for garnish
Olive oil mix:
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large clove of fresh garlic, minced
1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
To prep trout: Per usual, every trout harvest shout be gutted and cleaned onsite to ensure freshness and great taste. At home, descale trout with edge of knife by scraping from tail to head to shave off glitter. A duller sheen should remain on all sides afterward. .
To prep basil, olive oil mix and bread: To cut basil *chiffonade style (**into thin strips), stack leaves atop one another and roll tightly. Slice leaves perpendicular to roll. In a small mixing bowl, add olive oil, minced garlic, parmesan, and cayenne and mix thoroughly with spoon. Cut loaf of French breach diagonally at 45-degree angle into 1-inch pieces. Set all aside.
To grill trout, tomatoes and bread: Make certain grill is both clean and hot. Place cherry tomatoes on skewer and at rim of grill, far outside center of heat. Lay trout on grill just outside center of heat. There is no need to spray trout with any cooking oil. Cover grill with lid but make certain to monitor trout so it doesn’t burn. Use tongs to flip trout, by gripping at head, after 2 to 4 minutes. Skin should flake off, perhaps with dark muscle—this is a good thing, facilitates picking. Turn tomatoes to heat all sides with minimal charring. Cover with lid, peaking occasionally (ignore the maxim “If you’re looking, it ain’t cooking”). Remove trout after 2 to 4 more minutes, once fully cooked. Be careful with tongs—to remove, tip of tongs should grip head while length of handles run parallel with fish body. Remove tomatoes once they are soft.
Add slice of bread to hot grill and turn quickly and remove to avoid burning.
To assemble: Pick trout meat thoroughly from bones. Add about half a spoonful of oil mix over each slice of bread and spread around. Place two tomatoes atop each slice and smash down. Add picked trout meat to slices and top with fresh basil and a tiny pinch of sea salt.
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