Look around at waist lines, maybe even your own, and you know that Americans, Nebraskans, like to eat! Feasting is a big part of all of our holiday celebrations but probably as much a central part of our Thanksgiving celebration as any other holiday. As I sit writing this days before the Thanksgiving feast my mouth is already watering at the thought of the roast turkey, dressing, cranberries, mashed potatoes, gravy, oh yes, Grrrrrrrravy, and everything else that will fill our holiday table. You can have all the pumpkin pie though, I am not a big fan of pumpkin pie.
If you go back to the original Thanksgiving, that celebrated by the pilgrims, there are a striking number of menu items that are still part of our tradition. It is a pretty good bet that the pilgrims had some wild turkey on their Thanksgiving table and we are told that a variety of other fowl were also taken in preparation for the feast. You are left to your imagination to determine what “fowl” might have been on the pilgrim’s table; I am betting ducks and geese, maybe even a swan or some ruffed grouse, but perhaps they whacked an eagle or two or a bunch of passenger pigeons? We also know that venison, likely some whitetail deer, were also invited to that Thanksgiving table.
I know there are a number of us who still celebrate the Thanksgiving feast with some of those wild game dishes on the table (hopefully no eagles and absolutely no passenger pigeons).
How about some seafood? It is very likely that the pilgrims threw some fish, clams, oysters, scallops, crabs and lobsters on the table too! I suppose there are parts of our country, those on a coastline, where some seafood items will show up on the Thanksgiving table, but I doubt that it is very common on many Thanksgiving tables in Nebraska. But, maybe it should be?
Many Nebraska anglers can take advantage of the fall stockings of catchable-size rainbow trout in urban and parks waters around the state in addition to the year-round trout fisheries we have. Trout are cold-water species that are still relatively active, and relatively easy to catch even in the cold water of late fall. If you need some ideas on where you can find some of those fish, close to home, review this, http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/blogs/2012/10/fall-trout-stockings-scheduled/ or check out all of our public waters and the fish species found in them in the back of the Fishing Guide, http://www.outdoornebraska.ne.gov/fishing/guides/fishguide/pdf/FishGuide.pdf . If you need some ideas on fishing techniques, go back and check this out, http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/blogs/2010/03/spring-trout-stockings/ .
Now, I am always promoting the importance of catch & release especially for developing and maintaining fisheries where anglers have an opportunity to catch some quality-size, large, fish. If I am fishing any of our waters that support trout year-round and catching some nice trout, big trout, those fish are going back in the water from which they came, you can bet on that. But, on many of those year-round trout fisheries and certainly on all of the parks and urban waters where we have put & take trout fisheries, anglers can choose to selectively harvest a few of those fish.
When I choose to harvest a trout I usually do nothing more to them than field-dress them–remove the entrails. I searched YouTube for a good video showing what I mean by field-dressing and this is the best I could come up with:
Part of the reason that is the only cleaning I do of any trout I choose to keep, is because my favorite way to prepare trout is to smoke them. Simply field-dressing those fish and then throwing them on the smoker is easy, efficient and produces some mighty good eats. If you want to grill a trout, say with some butter, a lemon wedge and maybe a little fresh thyme, that also can be done very nicely by only field-dressing the fish and leaving them whole. OK, you can remove the head if you have to, but I even leave that attached.
Different species of fish have different table qualities. Trout and salmon have more oils and fats in their flesh than a pearly-white fillet from a yellow perch or walleye. To me that suggests that different species of fish are best prepared in different ways–Viva la difference! That is why I prefer to smoke any trout I might harvest.
Let me describe my smoking “recipe”: I brine the fish the night before in a brine made of water, brown sugar, salt, lemon juice and garlic cloves. Do not ask me the exact proportions in my brine recipe because I do not know–I do it by taste. I can tell you that I use a lot of brown sugar, maybe not so much that I turn the water into syrup, but a lot. Then I add salt to make it taste a little less sweet and throw in some lemon juice and garlic cloves until I can taste them. Once the brine is ready, throw the trout in, put it in the fridge, and let it sit overnight.
The next day I will remove the fish from the brine, rinse and put ‘em on the smoker. I like cherry wood for producing my smoke, but do not think it makes a whole lot of difference; whatever your favorite is will work. Smoking is “cooking” at low heat and it can take some time and patience to smoke large items like a whole turkey. However, it takes no time at all to smoke a trout or two. How long? Again don’t ask me because I don’t know, I have not stood around with a stop-watch to see how long. All I know is this–when the fish are done they will be smoked, you can tell that they have the smoke “glaze”; the skin will peel back easily, and the flesh will flake right off of the bones. When you see that, they are done, time to eat! I like to flake the meat off and eat it on crackers.
If I smoke an extra trout or two, once they are done they can be stored in the fridge or even in the freezer for a few days up until a few weeks. If you do not slap a smoked trout down on the table with your Thanksgiving turkey, they make a great snack item during one of those football marathons we will partake in over the next few weeks.
By the time you are reading this it may be too late to observe another original Thanksgiving tradition by catching, smoking and serving a trout or two on the table beside the turkey or other “fowl”. But, it is never too late to go fishing! If you are like me, after sitting around watching football games and talking to family for most of the day, I just feel like I need to get out and get some fresh air. I can think of no better excuse than grabbing some of the kids, bait and tackle, and heading out to catch a trout or three. When you do that, I even have a bad joke for you to tell the kids–You know what is the hardest part about smoking a trout? Getting them lit!
Happy Thanksgiving everybody, we do have A LOT to be thankful for!