Indeed, one of the most satisfying breakfasts in the Ozarks consists of fish, caught just moments before, hitting the grill. Whole river trout, slathered with olive oil and stuffed with fresh thyme, lemon, garlic, then a sprinkling of cracked pepper, salt, and Old Bay seasoning. Alas….let’s not get ahead of ourselves; we have to CATCH the fish before we can COOK, and then ultimately, EAT it!
April is a brilliant time of year to fish for trout in the Ozarks; the rivers are teeming with Rainbows, Browns, and even the occasion Cutthroat. On this particular morning I nudged my way to the rocky shores of Roaring River amidst the Mark Twain National forest in Missouri. My angler contemporary was fly fishing, but I opted for a spinning rod and reel with light tackle.
The key for success is marked by using light line—under two pounds to be exact—then attaching a small, white salmon egg to a tiny hook, ensuring that no part of the shiny barb is exposed. A small sinker eight inches above the eye of the hook keeps the nearly weightless egg just below the surface of the water. My first cast was just below the breaking water of a small fall, pushing the white specimen downstream…within 10 seconds my line was taut as the huge Rainbow broke deep, then spiraled up through the surface making a giant splash a mere six yards from the shore.
The light, thin line zipped from my reel as the fish roared downstream; I took chase, tripping over large rocks and down steep bluff cliffs, until he slowly began to tire from the fight. Seven minutes later, I hoisted the beautiful trout into my net and into my wire basket. Within thirty minutes I had procured my limit for the day and was heading back to camp to prepare breakfast.
While Jim lit the grill using a combination of dried leaves, firewood, and charcoal to a hot 400 degrees, I began preparations for breakfast. I started by slicing butter potatoes tossed with shallots, garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper…then directly into a sizzling cast iron skillet. These fried potatoes take the longest to prepare, so always start them on the fire before the fish and eggs. While the potatoes and shallots perfumed the campsite, I prepped the cavity of the cleaned, whole river trout with olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon wheels, and fresh thyme…then slathered the exterior with olive oil, cracked pepper, salt, and Old Bay seasoning. The fish were then lined on aluminum foil, covered with more foil, and placed directly on the grill above the flame; within seconds the skin started to snap, sizzle, and smoke. The fish should be ready for consumption after approximately twelve minutes, or once the eyes turn white and the skin is easily pulled away.
Breakfast is completed by simply cracking whole eggs into a hot cast-iron skillet with salt and pepper, then covering for three minutes until perfectly over easy.
There’s no doubt that whole grilled river trout is beautiful to see, but the flavor when paired with the sounds of the river where the fish resided just moments before is nothing short of culinary nirvana. Yet another reason to live, love, and eat in the High South.
Visit Crystal Bridges to celebrate the beauty and variety of America’s game fish with the upcoming exhibition Fish Stories: Early Images of American Game Fish, opening April 4!