A Family Tradition: Smoked Rainbow Trout Pasta
From the frozen lakes of Idaho to the family dinner table

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I grew up in northern Wisconsin where hard-water (ice) fishing stretched almost six months of the year, and our local lake sprung roads and ice shanties like a scene from Donald Petrie’s “Grumpy Old Men.” I grew up wishing and dreaming we would have built a swimming pool in our backyard so I could fish out of my bedroom window. That spawned a 19-year career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and rearing millions of fish in my backyard of government-owned housing on National Fish Hatcheries across the West.

Now our family spends as many weekends as possible in the outdoors. Our two daughters, 10 and 12, have grown up with less harsh winters than in Wisconsin, but we still routinely travel into higher elevations to find hard-water fishing.

The winter is a great time to catch trout either through the ice or staging in reservoirs around warm water inlets. These fish are usually exceptionally firm-fleshed. I prefer to keep fish in the 12-inch range; they are just large enough for filleting and thin enough that the brine and smoke penetrate well.

For keeping some fish for a feast, ice fishing is a great setting. You literally have an “ice box” all around to immediately chill your catch. Once the fish is dispatched, slitting the gill arches bleeds and results in a very clean fillet. I’ll then place the fish on the ice and cover with snow or slush. At the end of the day, I generally gut our fish on the ice before heading home.

Once I’ve returned home, I fillet the fish as soon as possible and then vacuum seal and freeze, if needed. Filleting is personal preference, but I also prefer to make a “Y” cut to remove the row of pin bones. I save those pieces to make pickled fish as the vinegar dissolves the bones away — but that’s a recipe for another day!

Growing up, we froze panfish fillets in cut-off milk jugs filled with water. They would keep for months without freezer burn. However, trout are not a good species to freeze in water, as the high fat content that makes them good for smoking is leached out in a water bath. Vacuum sealed, they’ll keep well for three months or so until you get enough to fill your smokehouse.

I use a wet brine for trout. You can add or subtract additional ingredients to suit your tastes. Garlic, lemon, pepper, and salt all compliment well and additional spices can bring additional palate sensations.

Tip: Be sure to rinse the fillets briefly after the brine or they will have too much salt accumulated on the surface of the fillet.

Smoking the Trout

Brining Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup non-iodized salt
  • 2 cups soy sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Brine the fish for at least eight hours or overnight, then rinse the fillets before smoking. Pat dry and allow the fillets to dry on the smoke racks until they are tacky. Cold smoke for 1 to 2 hours, then finish cooking at 160 degrees for 1 hour (for 12-inch fish fillets). I use a MasterBuilt electric smoker, but any smokehouse or grill can suffice. Low temperatures for smoking are superior to a flash-cook. Keep notes on your temperature settings and cooking times so you can dial in your preferences and replicate the results.

Tip: I like to vacuum seal the fillets and then refrigerate. They’ll keep for several months in fantastic shape.

You’ll want about 12 ounces of smoked trout (3 to 4 fillets). Remove the skin and cut into chunks. Don’t taste-test too much of the smoked trout before you get to the next steps!

Making the Pasta


  • 12 ounces smoked trout
  • 16 ounces of angel hair pasta, cooked
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 cups mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup green onions, chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tablespoon fresh garlic, chopped
  • 3 cups spinach
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated or shredded

Cook pasta and toss in olive oil. Set aside.

Sauté the garlic and mushrooms in butter. De-glaze with the wine and add the herbs, smoked trout, and tomatoes. Sauté at a simmer for several minutes. Add the green onions and cream and bring it back to a simmer. Finally, add the spinach and Parmesan cheese and simmer until the spinach wilts into the mixture. Serve over pasta.

This has become a Valentine’s Day tradition at our house as Mom’s favorite treat. My favorite way to enjoy it is paired with red wine and cheesecake for dessert. Enjoy!

Note from the editor: For those who would like to try this recipe but are not up for braving the cold of ice fishing or smoking your own fish, smoked trout can be found in grocery stores and online. Enjoy!

More Pacific Region recipes: 

Elk Braciole I Would Serve to the Cast of Dawson’s Creek

Super Simple Game Bird Poppers

Mid-Summer Smoked Mallard: Celebrate Hunting Season on the Fourth of July

Get Stuffed! A Hot Italian Elk Sausage Stuffing Recipe for the Ages

Story Tags

Connecting people with nature
Employees (USFWS)
Sport fishing
Winter sports

Recreational Activities