By Steven Raichlen
Where: Quebec, Canada What: Fresh rainbow trout with lemon and onion, grilled on a flaming log How: Direct grilling Just the Facts: The best fish for this dish is a two-pound rainbow trout—preferably one you caught earlier that afternoon. You can certainly use trout fillets or, for that matter, another cold-water and freshwater fish, like Arctic char. As for the log, maple or oak would be the logical choice in Canada.
This, Canada’s answer to planked salmon, began a long time ago with a very long drive – forty miles on a single lane gravel road. The destination was a lake called Marie-Louise in the Laurentian wilderness north of Montreal. The ritual was always the same, remembers my French-Canadian editor and friend, Pierre Bourdon. “My grandfather would stash a few beers in the lake to chill, wedging the bottles under the water with a log. We’d fish all afternoon; then to warm us up, Grand-père would build a fire. He’d drink the beer and lay the fish (fillets for us kids) on the wet log. He’d open a little bag of salt and pepper brought for the purpose of seasoning the fish. From one pocket, he’d produce a lemon, from the other, an onion; and he’d slice these ingredients over the fish, using an old penknife. Thus seasoned, the fish would be placed on its log on the fire, where the smoke and steam from the wood would work their magic. I’ve since had cedar-planked salmon, not to mention all manner of seafood cooked on a plancha in Spain, but I can tell you this: Nothing comes close to my grandfather’s trout grilled on a log.” Serve with – what else? Canadian beer.
Serves 2 and can be multiplied as desired
1 whole rainbow trout (about 2 pounds), cleaned, scaled, and fins removed, with head and tail intact, or 1 pound trout fillets
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, thinly sliced crosswise
1 lemon, thinly sliced crosswise (remove any seeds with a fork)
1 to 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil or unsalted butter (optional; not part of his grandfather’s repertory, but Pierre uses it today)
You’ll also need: 1 maple, oak, or other hardwood log (3 to 4 inches in diameter and 16 to 20 inches long) soaked in a tub of cold water for 2 hours, then drained well. Try to pick a log that’s straight and slightly flat on one side. It’s OK to use a split log – put the fish on the split side.
Advance preparation: A couple of hours for soaking the log
Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat it to high. Ideally, you’ll build a wood fire and let it burn until you have a good hot bed of embers. Or you can set up a charcoal grill for grilling in the embers or set up a gas grill for direct grilling.
Generously season the inside and outside of the whole trout with salt and pepper and place a few onion and lemon slices in the cavity. Place the trout on the log and arrange the remaining onion and lemon slices on top, alternating and overlapping them. If you are using trout fillets, season them with salt and pepper on both sides. Place the fillets on the log and arrange the onion and lemon slices on top of the fillets. Season the trout with more salt and pepper. If you’re so inclined, drizzle some olive oil on top, or top the fish with thin slices of butter.
Place the log with the trout on top in the fire, directly on the embers of a charcoal grill, or on the hot grate of a gas grill. If you are using a gas grill, cover it. Cook the trout until it is sizzling and browned, 30 to 50 minutes for a whole trout, 15 to 20 minutes for trout fillets. If cooking a large fish, you may need to turn it with a long-handled spatula to make sure both sides cook.
To check for doneness on a whole fish, insert a paring knife in the deepest part of the flesh above the backbone. When done, the flesh will come cleanly away from the bone. When done, the fish fillets will break into firm flakes when pressed with a finger.
From Planet Barbecue! by Steven Raichlen. Workman Publishing, 2010. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher.