Even hatchery trout can taste good

By: J.D. Richey Journal Outdoors Columnist
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The weather’s still cool and trout season in the foothills and Valley region is going strong at the moment. Places like Lake Pardee, Lake Amador, Camanche Reservoir, Folsom Lake, Rollins, Collins and Scotts Flat are all full of rainbows now thanks to aggressive stocking programs by lake concessionaires and the DFG.
Those planter rainbows are a blast to catch — but let’s be honest here — they’re not exactly gourmet table fare. They have pale, often mushy meat and on the Taste-O-Meter, they rate somewhere just south of an old gym sock. Texture-wise, think uncooked tofu.
It’s not the trout’s fault. In the hatchery, the only thing they have to eat comes in pellet form. Given a chance to hang out and feed on natural forage in a body of water for a couple months, these fish start looking and tasting much better. The flesh firms up and turns a nice orange color. But if you catch them shortly after they’ve been shot out of the back end of a tanker truck, you’re going to have to get creative to make hatchery rainbows palatable.
That’s where Scott “The Sporting Chef” Leysath comes into play. I figured if the world’s greatest fish and game chef couldn’t cook up a batch of mush-bows, nobody could. As usual, he didn’t disappoint. So, without further adieu, here’s his recipe for Smoked Trout Spread with Jalapeno.
“First off, fillet the trout,” he says. “You can leave the skin on if you like — or take it off if you’re so inclined. Next, take equal parts kosher salt and brown sugar and rub both sides of the fish with it. Place the fish in a Zip-Loc in the fridge for 3 to 8 hours.”
After that, he says you place the fish on a rack to air dry for 30 minutes.
“Next, pop the fish into a 140- to 160-degree smoker for 2 to 3 hours,” he says. “You can use whatever kind of smoker you want, but the best one I’ve ever used is a Bradley. They’re electric and, because a smoker disc automatically goes in every 20 minutes, you get very consistent results. Set the thing and walk away… done!”
When the fish is done smoking, flake up two cups of it and then, in a mixing bowl, combine the trout with the following ingredients:
• 8 Ounces softened cream cheese
• 4 minced garlic cloves
• ¼ Cup finely diced red onion
• 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves (or substitute with Italian parsley leaves)
• 1 Teaspoon Tabasco Sauce (or to taste)
• 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
“After you’ve mixed all these ingredients together, add salt and pepper to taste,” he says. “Then thinly slice some jalapeno pepper for garnish and dollop the spread onto tortilla chips.”
For more interesting ways to cook game and fish, take a look at Leysath’s website: and don’t forget to check out his TV show of the same name.
J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate whose outdoors pieces have been published nationally. Find him online at