Science attributes our love of smoky flavours to humankind’s early evolution, which involved grilling meat and preserving it with smoke.
Some people (like this food dude) even claim grilling meat has a satisfying, hypnotizing effect.
While I’m more than obsessed with the science of it all, there’s something about smoked meat that provides an almost spiritual experience for both the cook and the diner.
It was through my friend, Bear, that I had one of these profound experiences.
I first “met” Bear during an online game of Halo. He too was a young cook and had a few culinary aspirations of his own that were well outside the norm.
Bear dreamed of opening a gaming restaurant that served traditional, indigenous food with a twist.
Being a member of both the Cree and Haida peoples of western Canada, he had a passion for incorporating traditional ingredients into more mainstream food, with recipes such as cat-tail and oyster chowder, wild mushroom bannock pizza and my personal favourite, alder-smoked trout paninis.
After months of gaming we agreed to one day meet up in person. It was not a month afterwards I told him about my upcoming trip to Montreal and suggested he should grab a ticket out there to meet up.
Bear was much larger than I imagined. He lived up to the name his momma gave him, standing at over seven feet tall, four feet wide.
After getting the strongest bear hug (wince) of my life, we zoomed to a nearby flat where his girlfriend, Fox (I swear I’m not making this up) was waiting with ingredients ready to go, along with a cornucopia of beverages.
I was surprised to see he had rigged a portable barbecue on the balcony to act as a smoker. After a few drinks he presented us all with a large platter of smoked trout. It was so mesmerizing, I couldn’t help but tune out the small party as I tore into bite after bite.
I was lost to the world and tapping into some sort of familiar feeling I hadn’t felt since childhood.
I asked Bear how it was done and was shocked to learn it was smoked using soaked alder wood. It struck me that I could easily make the trout on my alder-plagued island of Newfoundland.
The following is a slight spin on my friend Bear’s recipe for:
Alder Smoked Maple Trout
- 1 ½ pounds filleted trout
- 2 tbsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp dry mustard
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ½ cup salt
- 2 tbsp fresh dill
- 2 cups alder wood chunks, skinned
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- Combine mustard, sugar, dill, pepper, salt and maple syrup in a bowl and mix into a paste.
- Layer half of rub mixture evenly into a large casserole dish.
- Place trout flesh-side-down into the dish evenly, covering the mixture, and layer the remaining rub on top of the trout, packing tightly.
- Cure in refrigerator for four hours.
- In a charcoal grill, elevate the grate for indirect cooking. Some creativity may be required for older grills to achieve indirect cooking, such as loosely wrapping fish in tin foil, allowing holes throughout so it can take in the smoke.
- Preheat grill to medium and oil grate with vegetable oil.
- Throw alder chunks onto coals once grill is heated.
- Place trout skin-side down on grill and cover for 15 minutes, or until flesh is flaky.
- Some burned bits can be expected but slough off well if not desired.
When I staggered back to my hotel room it was already sunrise. Luckily, my then-girlfriend was still snoring away. Before succumbing to a well-earned nap, I remember her asking me why I smelled so good … and smiling.