Beet-cured lake trout is a gorgeous addition to any spring brunch.
In a region that is part of some 10,500 miles of Great Lakes coastline, I’ve long wondered why we don’t see more preparations of freshwater fish. Where is the walleye ceviche? What about pickled smelt? Shouldn’t our bagel shops have local lox? My cookbook collection is teeming with recipes for preparing ocean fish in such ways and it made me wonder: “Is it safe to ‘cold cook’ fish from waters without any salinity?”
While I don’t recommend packing your sushi knife the next time you go charter fishing, there is good news. Many experts agree that preparations like salt-curing and marinating in acid work on quality freshwater fish. “Any treatment that controls microbes and parasites in seafoods will work just as well for freshwater fish,” Harold McGee, author of “On Food & Cooking” and an authority on the chemistry of food, tells Traverse. Those with underlying health issues should stick to fish that is blast-frozen first, but those who eat raw oysters and beef tartare might join me in thinking about certain native species in new—or not so new—ways.
Scandinavians have been curing salmon in a combination of salt and sugar since the Middle Ages. In more recent years, adding grated beets to the curing mixture has become increasingly popular. Doing so gives any spring brunch spread a stunning, fuchsia-hued focal point. While some include aquavit or gin, I like to use the same spice notes, without the booze. As the ice starts to melt and area fish begins showing back up at your favorite fish counter, give this easy technique a try with lean or “common” lake trout—which tastes incredible packed, literally, in all this flavor.
Beet-Cured Lake Trout
Serves a crowd
- 2-pound fillet of lake trout, pin-boned but skin on
- 2/3 cup coarse kosher salt
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup prepared or fresh-grated horseradish
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
- 2 medium beets, about 12 ounces, peeled and coarsely grated on a box grater
- Zest of an orange and a lemon
- 2 Tablespoons any combination of whole black peppercorns, juniper berries, fennel seed, whole coriander seed, caraway seed
- Place salt, sugar, horseradish, dill, beets and zest into a bowl and stir to combine.
- In a hot dry skillet, toast the spices until they are crackling and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, coarsely grind.
- Set a piece of plastic wrap that is more than twice as long as your side of fish onto a flat work surface, placing the trout—skin side down—in the center.
- Sprinkle the ground spices onto the trout. Spoon the salt-beet mixture on top of the fish, pressing the mixture into the fish with your hands.
- Fold the plastic wrap to create a tight seal, using a second piece if necessary. Place the fish on a baking tray and cover it with a baking dish filled with cans or other heavy objects. Place in the fridge for three days, flipping the fish every 12 hours and draining any beet juice that has escaped each time you do so.
- At the 72-hour mark, remove the fish from the refrigerator and unwrap. Scrape off the cure and massage under cold running water to remove anything stubborn.
- Transfer to a serving platter and pat dry with a paper towel. Working on an angle, thinly slice the trout and serve with bagels and cream cheese or as the plated main affair.
Stacey Brugeman is a Leelanau County-based food and beverage writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel + Leisure, Eater and Denver’s 5280, where she served as Restaurant Critic. Follow her on Instagram @staceybrugeman.
This dish is part of “On the Table,” Traverse, Northern Michigan Magazine’s food department that features a seasonal recipe each month as well as monthly wine and beer recommendations. Don’t miss a single bite. Subscribe here!