Cooking Fresh-Caught Fish on a Portable Yakitori Grill
For years I cooked trout in a pan with oil— a messy tedious job. For starters, fresh trout curl and it’s tough keeping small trout from curling up an inch out of the pan, as all fresh trout are prone to do. Splattering butter and oil and the hassle of constantly tending to a pan—and then cleaning it. And for big fish it’s a non-starter for good even cooking without burning, at least with a basic camping stove.
Then I tried a dutch oven—it works well but no crisp skin and it’s extra work to clean up: oil in the pot plus messy carbon residue on the outside of the dutch oven itself.
This little FireSense yakitori grill can be had for about $28. A larger model with about double the grilling area is only about $37. It is portable for travel (I put it in the rooftop carrier in my SUV), and it does a bang-up job on trout like this one. Its 2-inch thick ceramic walls absorb and reflect heat, making for an outstanding cooking “surround” for what’s on the grill.
- Handmade clay construction with adjustable ventilation (in practice this doesn’t help much).
- Large cooking surface with outstanding surround heating.
- Very modest charcoal use; highly efficient.
- Extremely cheaply made: handle will fall off quickly, and except for the grill surface and support, the surround metal is little better than tinfoil—but it cooks superbly. Stick it in a box with some padding and don’t worry about it.
- Not just for camping, this makes a terrific little grill for an apartment-dweller with even a small outdoor area (don’t cook with charcoal indoors).
This 16.5" 2.5 pound rainbow trout looked like King salmon and tasted quite similar. It was fantastic. Smaller trout cook fine too, but are harder to grill without drying out or burning because they are so thin on the tail end and belly area. Here I cut this large rainbow trout into two large chunks. On my recent trip, my dinner was trout for 9 of 14 days.
No, don’t eat this beautiful 12" brook trout—it’s too beautiful and it’s a female and spawning season is about to start. Then again, the eggs are tasty if cooked in a dutch oven. Still, eat the big rainbow trout below instead and return mama trout to the water (but eat the smaller ones, since they overpopulate).
No, not this one either! WAY too beautiful. Well, unless there are reasons, which there were in this case. Silent thanks to the spirit of the trout before gutting it are good karma. This Golden is a stocker also, but with many years on its belly. It cannot reproduce in the waters it came from, and is near the end of its natural life.
Below, this is better: an orange-fleshed rainbow trout. And it’s a 'stocker' so you don’t have to think twice about it versus the wild and semi-wild trout like the one above. I used to be put off by stockers, but these large ones with orange-colored flesh tasted like wild salmon—fantastic.
Get yourself a Benchmade Osborne knife for gutting trout in the field. This model 940 has a beefier blade, easier for cutting through big fish heads. Model 943 with a finer and more evenly beveled blade is a bit better for gutting, but model 940 rocks for all-around use.
Cut the trout into pieces that fit the yakitori. There is not much meat left on the head, but why not grill it and eat what there is? The heart may be good, but I’m a little squeamish on that one.
Sometimes it is best to cut off more of the tail section, since it will finish faster. As shown below, the large piece might be better off cut into two pieces for that reason. If you planned ahead, throw on a marinated pork loin too.
Grill to perfection. This result was from a different and slightly large trout, no room for the head here, except with the larger rectangular FireSense Yakitori. The larger model is be a better choice for families and groups, since the box that holds it is only 6 inches or so longer, but its effective grilling area is nearly double. A whole 16" trout can be cooked in one piece too.
Charcoal in this Yakitori generally lasts long enough to do at triple bouts of grilling. In other words, three of these trout could be cooked one after another with the charcoal still not spent.
As for charcoal, things can get fancy there, but a good hardwood charcoal works well; avoid the self-starting and Kingsford grade stuff. The Fire & Flavor John Wayne Briquette Charcoal imparts a nice mild wood smoke flavor. Start it with Weber FireStarters Lighter Cubes, which work well at sea level of 10,000 feet elevation and avoids the nasty fumes of liquids.