Adapted from a recipe by Galen Sampson, Chef and G.M. at the Beaverkill Valley Inn that he demonstrated over fire at the BVI.
Galen Sampson has settled into a comfortable life with his wife on the edge of the Upper Beaverkill River in the Catskill mountains. As the Chef and General manager of the Beaverkill Valley Inn, Galen works hard to create new and interesting dishes and experiences of all kinds for his guests. Chef Sampson’s recipe is a good example of how he responds to expectations that an Inn on a famous trout stream should serve trout, without pulling fish from the Inn’s private stretch of river. This is a highly prized trout fishing paradise that requires all guests to agree to catch and release practices prior to stepping into the special mile of river.
In 1963, about 5 miles up river from the Beaverkill Valley Inn, the Shaver family transitioned a dairy farm into a trout hatchery. As today’s hatchery manager, Sherry Shaver explained that her Great Grandfather wanted to try something new, so he dug a series of pools paralleling the river and fed the river water into the pools. The pools are like steps, gradually following the downhill slope on the edge of a dirt road across the street from an old dairy barn. Since that time the Shaver family has developed an expertise in raising trout from years of passed down experience and a lifetime invested in Catskill mountain living. Sherry tells stories of bears that have broken irrigation pipes and visitors who have learned to trout fish on their casting pond. She also explained to us how several times a year the trout or fry are moved from troughs inside near the incubators to outside locations as they grow and develop.
During our visit, Sherry showed us how the trout progress from inside in incubation rooms to tanks, then pools and finally to the counting pen where they are removed by nets into containers. The Shaver family crew then removes the trout by hand, examines them and sort them for delivery. The Beaverkill Trout Hatchery has several free flowing pools that contain trout from 10 inches to 28 inches, all are separated by species (browns, rainbows & golden) and size. This allows them to fill orders from trout clubs, municipalities and chefs in the Northeast. While we were there, we watched as they curated a delivery of 400 trout of mostly 12 inches, some up to 24 inches and 3 goldens of 26 inches for a town fishing derby on a river in New Jersey.
Chef Sampson, from the Beaverkill Valley Inn has been a regular customer of Sherry’s since he arrived at the BVI 3 years ago. He reports that their arrangement is very similar to other, more traditional vegetable farmers that he sources from in the Catskills. Orders are specific to the need. With the Beaverkill Trout hatchery, this generally calls for 12 inch rainbows filleted but for a special occasion he will buy larger fish, almost always rainbow as he prefers their brighter, sweet flavor compared to browns which often feed lower in the pools and have a muddier flavor.
As he approached preparations for this dish, the chef roasted potatoes and grapes in advance (on separate sheet pans) for about 20 minutes in a 375°F oven. Both were tossed with a splash of oil, salt & pepper. The shitake mushrooms were stemmed, sliced and sauteed with leeks & butter, then placed in a container to cool. Shallots for the grape relish were sliced and sauteed then combined with the roasted grapes before chilling in a sealable container. All of the prep was chilled and sealed for transportation to the fire site.
When he had his fire just right all that was needed was a cast iron skillet. All of his ingredients were ready to place in the hot pan. Once the well seasoned skillet had been brought to high heat he simply placed the trout skin side down in the pan, then placed the pre-cooked mushrooms & leeks on one side, the pre roasted, sliced potatoes on the other and after about 2 minutes he flipped the trout to finish. The grape relish was added to the pan and it released some of its moisture. After the fish was plated, the warm grapes were placed on top.
Eel River: Benbow, California
Adapted from a recipe demonstrated by Joshua Schwartz: Executive Chef Del Dotto Vineyards
Josh Schwartz has an eye for all tasty things in the wild. When invited to spend a day fishing and cooking with our American Rivers Tour crew, he was quick to suggest we start by foraging for watercress and other wild greens that sprout around the cool, clear creeks which run into Humboldt County’s Eel River. He reminded me that any wild fish we catch should be returned to the resource. Hatchery steelhead are available in Northern California so our recipe will help tell that story.
This recipe comes from Josh’s imagination. He stopped at a friends hatchery on the way up to Benbow, and took time to craft the vinaigrette and cultured cream in his kitchen before packing his drift boat and setting out from the Del Dotto Vineyard in Napa Valley where he is the executive chef. Then, just before launching the drift boat we stopped to forage tender, delicious succulents.
If you take a minute to watch our video, you’ll see that the skin of the steelhead is left on and lightly scored. He places the steelhead’s skin down on a hot, lightly greased surface and tops the filets with a stone to hold the skin tight to the cast iron skillet.
It’s not often that a trout is harvested from any river and transferred directly to the skillet on the American Rivers Tour.
Previously unknown to us, the Idaho Fish & Game Department is focused on reducing non-native rainbow trout in the Snake River. For this special occasion, we harvested a 19 inch non-native rainbow and cooked it along with 2 elk steaks for lunch. This is a simple 2 skillet meal. We prefer to use Lodge Skillets. The vegetables were purchased at a grocery store in Idaho Falls, pre-cut, and poured into the skillet from a bag. The vegetable stir fry with garlic, ginger, onions, jalapeno and soy brought the vegetables and elk steaks together nicely. Adding the rainbow was a unique and unexpected surprise.
As you can see in the video, cooking the rainbow on the bone makes preparing trout over fire easy. It helps to have a large cast iron skillet so the need for a grill is eliminated, the skillet can sit directly in the coals. In 5 minutes the fish is almost cooked through, then allowed to rest for a few minutes before de-boning. This helps to ensure that the trout is heated through to the bone. The skin does a nice job of providing a foil between the high heat and the fishes delicate flesh.
Planning for a float trip requires lists. One of my favorite lists involves kitchen prep for the riverside lunch, or in this case, brunch. Having found a perfect Fishpond canvas cooler at Henry’s Fork Anglers step one was taken care of. Everything I needed fit into one package including the cast iron skillets, paper plates, cutting board, knife and spatula.
Next step was to slice and dice the potatoes, peppers, onions and butternut squash. Ziplock bags make for perfect storage for the prepped vegetables, bacon and chorizo, along with a box of chicken stock. The baguette for our toast also fit. I wrapped it in tinfoil prior to leaving the Lakeside Lodge.
Taking this approach made arriving at the campsite easy. We built the fire, set up the skillets, got the chicken stock and poaching water boiling and in no time we were ready to serve.
Important to note that the fire area always requires extra time for clearing to ensure a safe fire zone, as well as extra time after the meal putting the fire out and secure a safe site prior to hitting the river.
The Lakeside Lodge is hidden and off the beaten path – perhaps that’s what I liked most about the establishment. Situated at the top of the Island Park Reservoir on Henry’s Fork River, it’s a perfect base camp for adventure oriented groups, especially if you’re fishing anywhere in and around Yellowstone. The lodge is located in Last Chance, Idaho, about 40 minutes north on Highway 20. Our group of 5 rented a cabin for a few days and found the amenities top notch and affordable.
As we finished cooking over fire, chef Jacob Dibble began to plate his entree for this recipe and it occurred to me that while the whole buffalo filet is fit for a king, serving a heavenly protein like this as an 8 oz portion might be more than some will really need. As we chatted about his dish he was quick to agree that if served with a starter and a healthy portion of vegetables, it would be appropriate to cut the filet in half and serve 4 oz cuts to 8 guests providing more at less cost and have less of an impact on the environment.