Like his Lasagna with Bolognese Sauce, Morgan has been cooking whole trout with this stuffing for over a decade now. In order to pull this recipe off, though, you need a big trout. Pan sized trout from the river or the pond won’t do. In other words, you need Walter.
You remember Walter? In the movie On Golden Pond, Henry Fonda is always going out trying to catch Walter. Just like Fonda, our very good friend Lee is always in search of the biggest trout. And he often finds it.
Lee is a local artist currently specializing in beautiful wood pieces like the one you see pictured here along with his wonderful wife Amy. Lee, also known as Subsistence Man, knows everything about hunting and fishing. For many years his Golden Pond was Duck Lake on the eastern side of the continental divide, which produces some of the largest rainbow trout in the lower 48.
For the last couple summers, however, Subsistence Man and his fishin’ buddy Greg have been working closer to home on beautiful Bowman Lake located just across the North Fork of the Flathead River in glorious Glacier National Park. Bowman is inundated with a non-native species called mackinaw or lake trout. The Park Service wants to rid Bowman of these primordial predators and to restock the lake with native cutthroat, most of which have been decimated by the macs. This amounts to a “screw the limit” policy, but there is a slight catch. The Park Service places severe restrictions upon the size of boats and motors allowed on Bowman Lake’s pristine waters. So Lee and Greg stalk their prey in a canoe outfitted with a tiny solar-powered trolling motor. The solar panels also run a sonar rig necessitated by the leviathans’ cruising depth of 125 feet plus. There has been more than one occasion that Subsistence Man limped home at dusk with the canoe gunnels mere inches from the surface due the trout poundage in tow.
Morgan, otherwise known as Cuisine Man, is always up for the challenge of cooking the biggest beastie that Subsistence Man manages to bring in. The Walter pictured above is an honest 30 inches. How big a fish one can cook depends on how big an oven or hooded grill is available. One of Morgan’s newest culinary toys this year is a six burner Weber Summit series. Morgan’s monster will (barely) accommodate Lee’s monster.
Making the Stuffing
This is my very favorite fish stuffing in the world. I love bacon. I love eggplant. I love spicy (as in heat). So what’s not to love about this stuffing?
Mago Tip: As with the bolognese sauce, you really can’t make too much of this stuffing. If you have more than will fit in the fish, then just freeze it and save it for the next time you’re stuck for a delicious side dish.
The smallest fish that works in this recipe is three pounds, which is what the amounts below are optimized for. This recipe scales perfectly with the size of the fish. And it’s not just for trout. Morgan has had fantastic results in Barcelona using large wild caught sea bass, for example.
- 10 slices of white bread. An artisanal baguette is preferable, but whatever you use should be stale or dried out in the oven and then cut into one inch croutons.
- 1/2 pan of cornbread. This should be home made, please, and it should be stale or dried out and crumbled into one inch chunks.
- 1 cup of fish stock. Morgan whacks up several Walters and makes a couple gallons of stock, which I then can with a pressure cooker or freeze. If you want to buy commercial fish stock, do not whine to us about the unconscionable amount of salt employed.
- 1 cup chopped onions
- 1 medium eggplant cut into a one inch dice
- 4 cloves chopped garlic
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil, tarragon, chervil, rosemary, or oregano. Basically use whatever you have growing or you could use dried herbs.
- 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated. Please use real parma or you will incur years of bad culinary karma.
- 1 cup white wine
Place all the bread into a large glass dish and pour the stock over it. Let it soak for at least 10 minutes.
In a large skillet, cook the bacon until it’s crispy. Morgan usually does this in the oven or with a skillet on the grill so that the Montana Love Shack does not smell like bacon for days. Then remove it and drain on a paper towel. Next, add the onions to the same skillet, season with salt and cayenne, and cook until translucent adding the garlic half-way through. Now add the eggplant to the skillet, season that with salt and cayenne, and cook until the eggplant is wilted.
Tump (that’s an Arkansas word) all of the vegetable mixture into a large bowl and let it cool completely. Remove the bread from the stock and combine it with the bacon and the onion, garlic, and eggplant mixture. Mix the ingredients well and moisten with additional stock if necessary. You want everything to hang together, but not be soupy. Finally, stir in the herbs and cheese.
Now you’re ready to prepare the trout.
Preparing the Trout
First, preheat your grill turning on all the burners to high.
Place the trout on aluminum foil. This piece of aluminum foil has to be wide enough to allow you to completely encase the fish plus a lot of stuffing with enough room on the top to seal it tight. If you don’t have aluminum foil large enough, you may have to place several sheets overlapping. Our monster took three sheets of heavy duty foil. Just be sure to give yourself plenty to work with.
Generously salt and pepper the outside of the trout, then open up the cavity and salt and pepper the inside of the fish as well.
Take the stuffing and fill the cavity of the trout.
Move the trout onto its side and place a generous amount of the stuffing under the fish’s belly and even some on top of the fish if you like.
Turn the grill burners to low and carefully move the trout to the grill. Seal the top of of the aluminum foil tightly, leaving the head and tail portions temporarily open.
Carefully pour the wine into the aluminum foil pouch, some on the head and some on the tail end.
Then seal it up on both ends. The fish is now ready to cook!
This next part was kind of neat. After Morgan sealed it up, I noticed that you could see the Rocky Mountains reflected in the bottom of the aluminum foil. Now that doesn’t happen very often.
Cooking the Trout
Cook the trout with all the burners on low and the grill top closed. The internal grill temperature should be in the 325 to 350 fahrenheit range. Our particular Walter was north of 10 pounds and took almost an hour to cook.
It is much more difficult to test fish for doneness than an equivalent slab o’meat. There are, however, several methods that produce very good results. The most professional way to test a fish for doneness is to use a cake tester. Slide the metal pin into the thickest part of the fish’s flesh and hold there for ten seconds. Remove and place the it directly on the underside of your lower lip. If it is warm, the fish is done. Alternatively, for fish above 5 pounds, you can employ an instant read thermometer, once again in the thickest part of the fish. The fish is done at 130 degrees fahrenheit.
Finally, you can (carefully!!) unseal a part of the foil pouch and physically interrogate Walter. One method is to pull out his dorsal fin. If comes free easily and is clean of flesh, the fish is done. Another method is separating a thick chunk of flesh along the spine near the head to see if the flesh is opaque but still juicy. If so, it is done.
And here it is done. You can see that the flesh is cooked through and the stuffing has melded together with the fish juices and white wine.
And here is Morgan plating the fish. He first takes off the skin, then bones it just like he does a little trout.
The final result, served with a chickpea salad and oven roasted broccoli dusted with smoked Spanish paprika. It was perfect.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to see some more stories about the North Fork, then click here.