From the Water to the Grill

It’s 6 a.m. and grandpa is persistent. “Get up and out on the water!” he says, even though we’ve never had a bite until way after 8. It’s frigid cold. I always thought it was funny how you could see your breath in June on Keuka Lake.

After we’ve fished for an hour, the fog starts to lift off the lake. To my surprise, we are surrounded by boats. As I look around I see every type – small single-engine, single-man with one pole; and exotic fishing boats with fancy equipment like downriggers, outriggers, GPS chart plotters and fish finders. There we are in our puny little boat with only two poles coming off the back. Grandpa tells me, “We don’t need all that fancy equipment, just our poles and our muscles,” and I know he’s right.

We cruise around for about two hours, then we get our first bite. As he whacks me on the shoulder, I feel like I’m waking up from a deep sleep, dreaming about fish. I jump up and start the muscle part and reel in for about 10 minutes. On the first leader there’s nothing, the second leader nothing, the third leader I see a little shimmer of his skin and the fight begins. I know when the fish sees the bottom of that blue boat; he starts to head the other way.

That old lake trout puts up a good fight with a couple of jumps high into the air, but he’s no match for the mighty fisherman that I am. He gets close enough and then the other pole hits, so gramp’s got a fish, too. I’ve almost got mine so I can see into his eyes. I reach in with the net and scoop him up, but to my chagrin, he’s only 18 inches long, not big enough to keep. “Ha, what a mighty fisherman I am,” I say. “I’ll tell you what, grandpa, you catch; I’ll cook.”

If you’re lucky enough to be a true mighty fisherman (unlike me), then it’s possible to go “from the water to the grill.” Here’s a recipe for quick grilling just after catch. If you do have to store your fish short-term, make sure you do it properly. It can be complicated because it involves keeping the fish dry and on ice at the same time. The easiest method is to store it in the refrigerator, on a towel that’s placed on a freezer bag filled with ice. You’ll need to change the ice daily, but it can be stored up to three days this way. After that, either cook it or freeze it.

Fish is a peculiar protein; in my book, it’s also the most versatile. It can be grilled, seared, fried, roasted, poached or steamed. Sometimes it’s crispy and buttery in the same bite and, if seasoned properly, it’s often delectable. Fish dishes are enjoyed by almost every culture, mainly because of their nutritional value and the abundance of fish on the planet.

Personally, I’m big on serving fish with fruits and wine sauces. The technique I’m going to introduce to you is steaming fish on the grill. It’s a great way to prepare fish ahead of time so you can take everything to a park or the lake for a picnic. This is a really versatile recipe; I’ve made it using salmon, bass, tilapia, grouper and even haddock.

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Foil-Wrapped Poached Trout (serves 4)
• 4 filets of lake trout or other white fish, skinless
• 1/2 to 1 cup of your favorite New York State Riesling (amount decided by fish size)
• 1 lemon, 1/2 sliced thin, the other half juiced
• 1 orange, 1/2 sliced, the other half juiced
• Old Bay seasoning
• kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
• tiny squirt of olive oil
• 2 to 3 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked

Prepare the grill. Cut two sheets of heavy-duty foil large enough to extend 6 inches longer than the trout filets and 4 to 5 inches wider on either side. Fold each sheet crosswise in half to crease, then unfold. Season the fish with Old Bay, kosher salt, cracked pepper, olive oil and the sprigs of thyme leaves. Put 2 seasoned trout filets to the right of the crease on each sheet. Top each filet with the orange and lemon slices and a splash of wine. Working with one package at a time, fold left half of foil over the filets. Starting at one corner of the crease, fold edge of foil over in triangles (each fold should overlap previous one), following a semicircular path around filet, smoothing out folds as you go and tucking last fold under to seal pouch completely. The filets can marinate in the pouch for up to 3 hours. Finally, transfer the pouch to the hot grill and cook for about 15 minutes. Place the pouch on a plate, carefully unfold and enjoy.
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Grilled Vegetables (serves 4)
• 1/2 green squash, sliced 1/4-inch thick
• 1/2 yellow squash, sliced 1/4-inch thick
• 1 small eggplant, sliced 1/4-inch thick
• 1/2 red pepper, deseeded and cut into two-inch segments
• vegetable oil
• olive oil
• kosher salt
• fresh cracked pepper
• 2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked

Place the vegetables in large bowl and toss them with an equal amount of vegetable and olive oil, just enough to lightly coat. Then, season generously with the kosher salt, fresh cracked pepper and fresh thyme leaves. After all the vegetables are coated evenly with seasoning and oils, they can marinate up to 3 hours. Finally, place the vegetables flat on a very hot grill. The peppers will take the longest, so start with them and add the squash and eggplant a few minutes later. Cook on both sides until soft but not burned. Serve with trout.
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Couscous (serves 4)
• 2 cups chicken stock
• 1 cup couscous
• 1/2 green squash, diced to 1/4-inch pieces
• 1/2 yellow squash, diced to 1/4-inch pieces
• 1/2 red pepper, diced to 1/4-inch pieces
• 1/2-pint cherry tomatoes
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked
• Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

Bring the chicken stock to a rapid boil in a small stockpot. Add the couscous and the vegetables. Turn off the heat and cover for about 5 minutes. Gently fold in the butter and thyme, and finish the couscous with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. Serve with trout.


by Chef Eric K. Smith, New York Wine & Culinary Center