Butterflied, pan fried trout with the youngest, freshest peas. What could be more springtime than that?
This recipe is an ode to springtime, and, here in California, you can both ice fish and harvest spring peas in the same day. It’s all a function of altitude.
On one such spring day, I got a call from my friend Joe. “Dude, let’s go ice fishing.” Joe had a spot way up in the High Sierra where we could fish through the ice in March. Two feet of ice on a day that might hit 60°F? That’s my kind of ice fishing.
Joe arrived at my doorstep bright and early. Into the truck and up into the mountains we went. It is in the mountains where the ice — and the trout — are located. California is a wondrous place from an outdoorsman’s perspective. Don’t like the climate? Drive a few miles. It was going to be 75°F at my house that day, but were were driving into a different world.
Up and up we went, past Tahoe and higher. Finally we stopped at the shore of Caples Lake, a little lake that sits at 7800 feet above sea level. We got out of the truck and could immediately see our breath. It was cold. I put on my jacket and looked out over the lake. Cold yes, but gorgeous.
High peaks surrounded us and there was almost no sound… except for that of dripping water. Never a good sign when you are headed out onto a frozen lake. Joe hadn’t been to the lake in a week or so, but assured me that the ice would still be thick. We walked up to the bank and saw a small patch of open water. Not good.
“You go first,” I said to Joe. I promised to save his ass if he fell through. Carrying our ice auger, he gingerly took a step onto the ice. So far so good. We decided to drill a hole right near the bank to test the depth of the ice. After drilling 6 inches and still not getting through, we reckoned it’d be fine.
We were right. We walked out onto the frozen lake and soon found a few old ice holes. We cleared them with the auger, revealing that the ice underneath us was nearly two feet thick — after a week of warmth, in late March. I was amazed. We drilled out a few more holes and dropped our jigs down. Good thing the ice was thick, as we were in at least 10 feet of water not 100 feet from shore.
We hadn’t been fishing 15 minutes when Joe got a bite. Up came a teeny tiny mackinaw, probably 6 inches long at most. When they’re that small, macks look snakelike. Joe returned him to the water.
I joked about what sort of stories that mackinaw would tell his friends. “Man, I was totally abducted by aliens! It was so weird.” None of the other fish would believe him, but he would know. He’d been to The Other Side…
Ding, ding. DING!! My rod tip bent and I set the hook with a flick of my wrist. A fish! My first fish through the ice in nearly a decade! As soon as I saw it through the hole I knew it was not a mackinaw. It was a rainbow trout.
It was the only decent fish I’d caught that day, so I decided to butterfly it. (I have a tutorial on how to butterfly a fish here.) If you don’t feel like butterflying your fish, no biggie. Whole, gutted fish or fillets also make great pan fried trout.
You’ll want good, sweet butter and nice peas for this recipe. I don’t blame you if you buy frozen peas — I use them when I am not growing peas in my garden.
The trick here is to fry the skin side of fillets or a butterflied fish in the butter, basting the meat side with the hot butter but never actually flipping it. The result is a pan-fried trout that is crispy but not overcooked.
Pan Fried Trout with Peas
- 4 frying pan sized trout butterflied, fillets or whole
- About 3/4 cup flour
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cups peas, fresh or thawed
- 1 cup chicken stock
- Grated zest and juice of a lemon
- 3 tablespoons minced parsley
- Black pepper to taste
- Rinse the trout in cold water and pat it dry with paper towels. Salt it lightly on both sides, then dredge it in flour.
- Heat the butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. If you think you can get all the trout into the pan at once, you are good to go. If not, get individual plates ready and set your oven to 200°F.
- When the butter is hot, lay the trout skin side down in the hot butter. Fry for 2 minutes, then use a large spoon to baste the meat side of the trout with butter. Keep basting with the spoon for a minute or two, depending on how thick the trout is. In the trout above I only basted it for about 90 seconds. When the skin side of the trout is golden brown, use a spatula (or two) to gently remove the trout and flip it skin side up onto a plate. If you need to fry more trout, put the plate in the oven.
- When all the trout have been cooked, add the remaining ingredients to the pan and turn the heat to high. Boil furiously until the sauce reduces by half, then pour it over the trout. Serve at once with bread, rice or potatoes.