Pan Fried Trout

Native trout brings flavor to the spring plate

Nothing says spring to me more than the beginning of trout fishing season in Vermont, and we’re almost there, April 13 to be exact. Once the ice melts, and everything loosens up, it’s time to get your license, clean the poles, and plot your next expedition, even if that expedition is only to the fish market.

Free-range child

As a child, my brothers and I roamed the streams that meandered through the forests surrounding our home in Spofford, N.H., fishing poles in hand, optimism high. Even if all we caught was one little fish for our day’s efforts, Mom would cook it as reverently as if we had provided all the sustenance for the family supper, and nothing tasted better.

Fresh trout will actually freeze quite well. Mom used to toss any extra catch in the freezer as the season wore on and periodically would have a big fish fry and invite the relatives over. This was the annual star of our Labor Day cookout! My brother carried on this tradition, and I also held one a couple of years ago. Good memories.

If there’s an angler in your home, you know the delights of a freshly caught trout. When camping, there’s nothing better than the fresh catch cooked simply over the campfire with just salt and pepper, a bit of fat, and if you camp like us, perhaps a squeeze of lemon.

My father taught me how to fish, and on the rare occasion I got to go fishing with just him, no brothers, it was a special time. Fishing is all about the quiet.

More often, we end up cooking farm-raised trout from the fish market or grocery store, a good option but more mild in flavor than wild. If you are not planning a trek to the wilderness, there are still many ways to transform trout into a memorable meal to boost its appeal.

Adding subtle flavors

This is where the herbs and aromatics come in, and we have many possibilities. This recipe uses tarragon, but you can also stuff your fish with fennel fronds, dill, parsley, fresh chives from the garden, or arugula from local greenhouses.

If you have a choice in the market, ask for a whole fish, head and tail on for the most flavor as the fish cooks. Ask the fishmonger how long they have had the fish, and its source.

If it looks good, and smells good…

The fish should look plump and moist; the eyes should be clear and not sunken into the head. Most importantly, there will be no off smells.

Whether fresh or farmed, wash them well inside and out, and dry them completely before proceeding.

The zing of horseradish

If you have a horseradish root tucked away in the bottom of your crisper drawer, now is the time to take it out. You can also forage them in the wild in April if you know what you are looking for, or browse the local co-ops and health food stores. But in a pinch, a bottle of prepared horseradish in vinegar will do nicely; look for a local one if possible.

This is a really quick recipe – as long as you don’t count in the time catching the fish!

Pan Roasted Trout with Horseradish and Tarragon

stuffed trout
All stuffed and ready to fold over and cook.
ready to go
A quick dredge in cornmeal with a touch of Old Bay is all you need for a coating. It serves to protect the delicious skin, and add crispiness
Toss a few crushed garlic cloves and any extra lemons you have in the pan along with the fish.

Pan Roasted Trout with Horseradish and Tarragon

You can easily expand this recipe, just don’t crowd the pan while frying.

Wash and thoroughly dry:

  • 2 whole trout, ½ lb. or so each

Sprinkle the cavity of each with:

  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp. prepared horseradish

Stuff each inside with:

  • Three or four sprigs of tarragon or other herbs
  • Three or four thin slices of lemon

On a platter or baking sheet, combine:

  • 1 ½ cups finely ground cornmeal
  • 2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 tsp. each salt & pepper

Mix this together well, then gently press both sides of the stuffed fish in the cornmeal mixture, a light coat is all you want. Hold them together with your fingers as you turn them over, pressing the fish down into the meal. It’s way easier than it sounds.

Over medium/high, heat a large cast-iron frying pan, or other large skillet. To the pan add:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 2 or 3 cloves garlic, crushed

Once hot, add the fish gently to the fat, it should start to sizzle. Toss in any extra lemon slices to caramelize along with the fish.

Reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 7 minutes on the first side. Turn when the house starts to smell really good and the fish is browned on the down side – you will have to peek carefully here. Cook, for another five minutes or so to finish the second side. A sharp knife in the thickest part will pierce the flesh without resistance.

Remove to a platter or individual plates, and squeeze a little more lemon over all.

This is perfect served with spring green vegetables: fiddlehead ferns, asparagus, watercress, or any combination of these.

© Copyright 2019 – or current year, Dorothy Grover-Read, The New Vintage Kitchen



  1. Alicia says:

    I think the cornmeal sounds wonderful!

    1. Thank you Alicia! It’s a perfect little dredge for the fish, taking nothing away from it!

  2. I love the sound of your childhood, which could be no further from mine…. roaming with a rod and firm intent to catch dinner…sounds idyllic compared to my Sydney inner city life. That might explain my desire to retire to the country one day.
    Lovely recipe too 😊

    1. Thanks Kathryn! I do appreciate my free-range childhood, fishing, gathering berries and nuts in the summer, and creating whole worlds in the sandbank across from our house. But I think that wherever children grow up, the landscape they live in becomes the canvas for their remarkable imaginations.

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