Catch and Eat Fish

I have never held a fishing rod in my life. The only fish I ever caught was in a pet store when a clerk handed me a small net so I could “catch” the angelfish I wanted for my aquarium.

When I polled my closest friends in Montana, nearly all of them said they spend a minimum of a week each year fishing, most of them practicing the art of casting with flies they tied, catching and releasing their quarry.

I don’t hunt either.

Clearly, I am the odd man out.

But I do know how to cook fish (and game) and that’s why this magazine pays me the big bucks — to do a little show and tell.

I’m sure we could debate for hours which Montana fish makes the best eating, but I have a weakness for Brown Trout because that’s the first fish I learned to fillet and cook in culinary school. I won’t tell you how many fish my classmates and I butchered before our chef instructor gave us the go-ahead to prepare the fish for cooking and eating.

So first, here’s a primer on the proper way to fillet and butterfly a trout (a whole fish weighing around a pound a half). I use a boning knife because it has a flexible blade. I also make certain it’s razor sharp before I begin the task. Once the head and the innards have been removed you should have about 10 ounces of fish.

First, lay the fish flat with the belly facing you, and with a pair of shears remove the back and belly fins. If the head has not been removed, do that now, making a clean slice behind the gills.

Starting at the tail, begin by sliding the knife between the flesh of the fish and the edge of the rib cage. When you become more adept at this, you’ll be able to slide your knife almost effortlessly toward the head, but if you’re just beginning then make small cuts, ensuring that you keep the knife as close as possible to the rib cage, making the cuts toward the backbone.

As you make those cuts, separate the meat as you go, then turn the fish over and repeat the process on the other side. Once you’ve opened up the fish, take up the shears again and cut the ribs and backbone away from the flesh. Keep the tail on, even though it’s not edible.

The bones and head can be used to make fish stock or a fumé for another time. Our method of cooking will be the upside-down grill in your kitchen, otherwise known as the broiler.

Mix together a quarter-teaspoon each of celery seed, dried oregano, paprika, sugar, and dried thyme, along with a half-teaspoon of garlic powder. Be sure to add some kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to the mixture.

Place the butterflied fish fillets on a rimmed baking sheet fully opened. Spread a small amount of softened butter over the flesh of the fish or brush with olive oil and pat in the herb and spice mixture.

Broil until golden and cooked through — it should take only two or three minutes.

And I hear the Browns are biting at Hebgen Lake right now.

Chef Jim Gray’s weekly blog:


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