Simple, Fast, Mess-Free…

To the fisherman, there is nothing more exciting than the thrill of the chase. The sight of a hard fighting steelhead leaping out of the water, the sound of the Great Lakes surf, smell of the forest along the river’s edge, sound of gobbling turkeys at dawn – these are the things that keep us coming back for more. But many times preparing savory dishes for family and friends to enjoy is a great way to share the excitement of the harvest. However, when it comes to cooking steelhead the results can be very disappointing.

I must make a confession, for over 30 years I gobbled steelhead that tasted fishy. Oh sure, I fried it, baked it, even deep fried the firm orange flesh but it still tasted like, well, fish. Then I hit on a recipe that makes steelhead taste like salmon prepared at a fancy Detroit restaurant by a professional Chef. I finally discovered a steelhead recipe that is tops, simple, fast, little mess and makes the firm flesh taste absolutely fantastic. I simply grill it. Here’s how:

Well, there is more to this recipe than meets the eye. It is certainly simple but if you cut corners, don’t select good fillets or properly prepare the meat, it can still make the outcome taste fishy.

Steelhead are the favorite trout of most Great Lakes anglers and have a reputation as being “Lords Of Our Rivers”, come the annual spring run. Steelies are big trout, most average between 5 and 10 pounds, are firm fleshed and offer up spectacular fighting qualities when hooked on light tackle. They are respected for their superb fighting qualities but looked down on when it comes to table fare. In fact, the vast majority of steelhead fishermen practice catch and release fishing because steelies have a reputation as being fun to catch and not good eating. Not true. In fact, if you try the grilling recipe below you will be amazed at how delicious steelhead taste. Try it and you will purposely go steelie fishing for food, steelhead are excellent table fare.

The secret to the success of this recipe hinges on how well you take care of the fish. Begin by selecting a fresh trout, best identified by silver sides and chrome steel-looking face. Dark steelheads are usually fun to catch but they have been in the river for a long period of time and their flesh has deteriorated to the point where the meat has a strong fishy flavor. Look for silvery fish fresh from the Great Lakes with white belly and bright orange, firm flesh. My choice would be a male steelhead with solid muscles and orange colored meat. As a rule of thumb the firmer the meat, caught from cold water and more orange the flesh, the better tasting the steaks. Avoid eating fish that has been allowed to get warm for extended periods or steelies with white flesh, which is a clear indication the soft, mushy, white meat lacks qualities needed for good eating.

Start by bleeding the steelhead by cutting the gills. This drains blood from the meat. Keep fish chilled in icy water, snow or ice. Do not allow meat to become warm in the sun, on river bank or in warmish water that is 50 degrees or warmer. Fillet with a sharp knife by cutting meat lengthwise from the gills to tail along the backbone, turn knife flat and remove skin. Remove dark or grayish flesh found on the skin side, along the lateral line. Some call this dark colored tissue the “Mud line” which is really a sensory organ that makes steaks taste very fishy. Turn fish over and remove meat from opposite side. Fresh fish should be cleaned of blood, scales, slime, water, patted dry and stored in a Ziploc bag on ice.

Steelhead have a delicate flesh and should be chilled and eaten relatively soon. Frozen steelhead simply lack the flavor of freshly caught trout. Cut into serving size steaks. Place fish in pan and cover with olive oil. Use first cold press virgin olive oil. Sprinkle on Montreal Steak seasoning. I recommend McCormick Grill Mates Montreal Steak (www. which is a robust blend of coarse ground peppers, garlic, and spices for bolder tasting fish. Shake 1 tbsp. seasoning per pound of fish before grilling. Marinate fish in olive oil and Montreal Steak seasoning for 30 minutes before grilling.

Place steelhead steaks on hot grill with well greased wires. Cook thin steaks 4 minutes per side, 7-10 minutes for thick steelie steaks, turn and pour excess seasoning and spices over steaks. Grill until meat is fully done, flakes easily when tested with fork. Some like steaks that are browned, others leave steaks a few extra minutes to give them a darker coating and ensure the meat is completely done or crunchy to the bite.

I must confess after learning how to grill spring caught rainbows I’ve developed an appetite for the meat. I even enjoy cold grilled steaks for lunch or a snack when I’m on the river. Grilling makes it taste like Atlantic salmon, fresh from the ocean. Few fish taste better and with the rising cost of fresh fish on the market I hope you give this recipe a try. If you do, I guarantee you will be impressed with the fine flavor, ideal texture and you will refill your plate.n