Photos by Caitlin Abrams
Prepping fish for grilling | Photo by Caitlin Abrams
As any Minnesotan knows, catching the fish in one of our lovely lakes or rivers is only half the battle. Once you reel ‘em in, you gotta cook ‘em.
While we would never begrudge anyone the splendor of a fish fry, there’s a much easier (and you know, not battered and fried) way to do it. It involves your grill, a fish, a few kitchen staples and . . . that’s it.
Chef Shannon Stewart has crafted the menu of the new Trout Air Tavern—located at Running Aces Casino and Racetrack, near Forest Lake—to showcase simple, tasty, Minnesotan fare. The restaurant’s previous incarnation, the Trout Haus (along with its adjacent Trout Air “catch-your-own” fish ponds) was a popular road trip pit stop from the 1960s through the ‘90s. The Tavern, which opened in May, takes an updated approach to that retro-cabin vibe, complete with a locally focused menu that highlights its namesake fish.
Stewart’s a pro, but she swears it’s not that hard. There are a few different styles of grilling fish, she explains, whether it be lake or brook:
- Pop it right on the grill (that's what we did!). Not only will the fish stay intact, the skin is tasty. “Trout [in particuarl] has a thin skin, so it will crisp up nicely and you can eat it!”
- Use a cedar plank. Fish placed on a plank (which you’ve soaked in water for a few hours), and cooked on a covered grill, will be evenly cooked and smoky. There’s no flipping required, either.
- Make a foil packet. Packed with aromatic herbs, seasoning, lemon, and onions, this style is easy and extra flavorful.
You can grill just about any fish, but a trout (particularly a river trout) will net (ha!) the best results.
If the fishing gods did not smile upon you this summer, no worries: Stewart says salmon, mackerel, or swordfish will work just as well. You can grill a whole fish, head and all—but you can also clean, debone and take the head off. If you do that, she says, just make sure to butterfly the filet. (It's a good idea to remove some of the fatty deposits too, if you fear contaminants.) If you buy a fish from a grocer or butcher, they’ll likely already be butterflied.
And make sure you have a wide, thin spatula on hand so your fish doesn’t fall apart when you flip it. The general rule of thumb is 8-10 minutes of cooking time on each side per inch of thickness.
GRILLED WHOLE RAINBOW TROUT IN FOIL by Shannon Stewart
- 1 rainbow trout (about 12 to 16 oz.) The ones pictured here were farmed and fileted, from Clancy's Meats in Minneapolis.
- 1 oz. yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 4 thin slices lemon
- 2 sprigs fresh dill
- 1 T. garlic and herb seasoning
- 4 oz. salted butter, melted
- Pinch kosher salt
- Pinch black pepper
- Get the grill going to make sure it is nice and hot (and clean, and oiled—Steward recommends a rag soaked with canola oil rubbed over the grill with tongs; also try a halved onion soaked in olive oil and rubbed over the grill).
- Lay two pieces of foil crisscross on a flat surface. Put a few pieces of onion, two lemon slices, and a sprig of dill on the foil and lay fish on top. (If you’re working with a filet, place it flat so the butterflied sides are splayed out with the skin side down.)
- Brush the fish with the salted butter (“Don’t be stingy!” Stewart implores), then sprinkle with the garlic herb seasoning, salt, and pepper. Put the remaining lemon slices, dill, and onion on the fish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. (If your fish is butterflied, fold the sides together first.) Wrap the foil around the fish and seal the ends.
- Place the foil pack on the grill. Cook covered for 8-10 minutes, depending on size. Flip the packet and cook, covered, another 8-10 minutes. When opening the foil, be very careful of the steam.
+ PAIRINGS FROM SURDYK'S
We asked the experts at Surdyk’s for beverages to complement Stewart’s grilled rainbow trout. Here’s what they recommend:
Pairing #1: Rocca delle Macie Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Minnesota freshwater fish pairs perfectly with the crisp, elegant whites of Italy’s Tuscan region. Vernaccia in particular, with its light straw color, clean flavor and fresh aromas of citrus oil and Asian pear, will complement this easy but impressive trout preparation.
Pairing #2: Pimm’s Tonic
Pimm’s No. 1, a fruity gin-liqueur blend traditionally mixed with ginger beer or lemon-lime soda to make a Pimm’s Cup, is just at home in a slightly bitter tonic cocktail. Top 2 oz. Pimm’s with 4 oz. tonic water in an ice-filled Collins glass and add orange or lemon garnish for instant refreshment, and a citrusy accompaniment to your grilling adventure.