The Rocky Mountains are known as a prime fishing destination, and as such, rainbow trout is often on the menu in Colorado, whether that’s at a restaurant, in homes, or at campsites. This easy, classic Pan Fried Trout recipe makes a delicious, quick dinner of store-bought or fresh caught rainbow trout by lightly dredging it in seasoned flour then quickly searing it in a hot skillet with a little butter.
This post is a continuation of Colorado Week in my American Eats series where I explore the flavors of each state, one at a time. Be sure to check out the Crock Pot Pork Green Chili and Rocky Mountain Avalanche Bars that I also shared along with this pan fried trout to represent Colorado in this series!
I married a man who is just like my dad in so many ways. Not the least of which is that they are both avid fly fishermen (and would both immediately start downplaying this statement, despite it’s absolute veracity).
When Paul and I started dating, my dad decided Paul was a keeper when he impressed him with his ability to tie his own flies. Paul was the vice-president of the Fly Fishing Club for a while at BYU. He is constantly dreaming and scheming about his next fishing trip with his own dad or another fishing buddy.
One of our very first dates was when Paul took me fishing on the Provo River near BYU. It was memorable not for the fish we caught, but for the fact that he was so nervous he accidentally hooked himself, catching the back of his shirt with his fly, and then getting his fly stuck in a tree and spending 20 minutes trying to get it unstuck, growing more and more embarrassed while I couldn’t help laughing while he tried to retrieve it and kept falling through the thick brush on the side of the river.
But my dad was the first man in my life who introduced me to rainbow trout. When I was a little girl, we spent summers camping in Idaho, another Rocky Mountain state where rainbow trout are plentiful.
Some of my earliest memories are of fishing off a bridge in Island Park with my dad putting worms on my hook or baiting it with marshmallows or cheese and salmon eggs. For the record, my fly fisherman husband used to scoff at this type of fishing but since becoming a dad has done this himself for our girls many times so they can experience the joy of catching their own fish as well.
My dad would clean and gut the fish and when we got back to camp, I remember my mom dredging them in a little flour, salt, and pepper, then frying them in a pan for dinner. My grandpa always insisted we eat the trout with a piece of bread to help get down any little bones if they got stuck in our throats.
Just look at all these fishing obsessed people I’m surrounded by (my husband and daughter on the top, my dad (in red) and father-in-law on the bottom). It was inevitable that I post about pan fried trout sooner or later.
Basically the Best Rainbow Trout Recipe
So even though this is probably the most basic trout recipe you will ever find, pan fried trout is near and dear to my heart and truthfully my favorite way to eat rainbow trout. It takes all of about 8-10 minutes to cook pan fried trout. The hardest part is cleaning the fish, which some stores will do for you if you aren’t catching the trout yourself on the banks of a river or a lake.
Also, my fisherman husband tells me that I need to specify that this method of preparing trout works for any kind of trout, not just rainbow trout. Brown trout, brook trout, cutthroat trout all work just as well as rainbow trout for pan frying.
Rainbow trout are almost always cooked and served with the skin on for added flavor. Since it is a lean, white, flaky fish, with mild flesh that doesn’t have the richness or oils of other fish like salmon, so it tastes less fishy than most fish. It’s a great choice for this kind of pan fry in a little butter since the thin trout fillets cook quickly.
I have done a post on how to grill whole fish, and will have to do another post on how to bake a whole rainbow trout in the oven. But this pan seared trout method is one of my favorites for the slightly crisp coating and how very simple it is.
How to Make Pan Fried Rainbow Trout
- Pat the fish fillets dry with paper towels (more on how to clean fresh-caught trout below).
- In a shallow pan, season a little flour with salt and pepper. Dredge the trout in the flour by pressing it down on both sides and shaking any excess flour off. This thin coating of seasoned flour protects the fish from burning in the pan and creates a wonderful texture without making the trout taste battered and fried.
- Heat a large cast iron skillet or other nonstick pan over medium high heat and melt a little butter with olive oil in it. When the butter is melted, lay the trout fillets skin side down in the pan and cook for about 3-5 minutes, then carefully flip with a thin, wide spatula and cook on the other side for another 3-5 minutes until golden brown, nearly opaque and the fish flakes easily with a fork. Just don’t overcook the fish! You may need to work in batches to cook all your fish, but since it cooks so quickly this isn’t typically a problem.
- Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing over the top of your pan fried trout.
How to Clean Fresh-Caught Trout
To clean a trout, hold the fish belly up and use a very sharp thin, flexible knife like a filet knife to slice the trout’s belly from the throat down to the exit hole (you know what I’m talking about, it’s just a little bit before the tail), being careful not to slice too deeply so as not to puncture the intestines.
Spread open the fish and pull out the guts and discard. Rinse the fish under a faucet, using the tip of the knife to scrape out any black stuff that remains behind (usually along the fish’s spine at the bottom of the cavity).
After cleaning out the insides, cut off the head (just before the pectoral fin). Rinse the trout thoroughly, inside and out. If you plan on eating the skin, you’ll probably want to descale the fish by scraping from tail to the gills with your knife (but if you don’t plan to eat the skin, there is no need to descale the fish, although personally, I like to have my fish scaled before cooking).
Then to butterfly the trout, start at the tail and slide the knife between the flesh of the fish and the bones that make up the fish’s ribs. Cut toward the backbone, separating the meat from the bones as you go, then flip the fish over and repeat on the other side.
Use kitchen shears to cut through the base of the ribs along the backbone and then lift out the backbone and rib cage. With the spine removed, then trout is butterflied and will flatten easily into beautiful fillets that are easy to pan fry!
If you want more detail or step-by-step photos, I found this article on how to butterfly a fish helpful.
What to Serve with Trout
- Garlic Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes
- Salt Crusted Baked Potatoes
- Green Beans with Bacon & Pine Nuts
- Brussels Sprouts with Apples & Bacon
- Honey Steamed Broccoli
The Rocky Mountains are known as a prime fishing destination, and as such, rainbow trout is often on the menu in Colorado, whether that's at a restaurant, in homes, or at campsites. This easy, classic Pan Fried Trout recipe makes a delicious, quick dinner of store-bought or fresh caught rainbow trout by lightly dredging it in seasoned flour then quickly searing it in a hot skillet with a little butter.
- 4 butterflied trout, beheaded, scaled, and pinbones removed
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Lemon wedges, for serving
Pat the filleted fish dry with paper towels. In a shallow pan, combine the flour, salt and pepper. Dredge the trout in the flour by pressing it down on both sides and shaking off the excess flour.
Heat a large cast iron skillet or other nonstick pan over medium high heat and melt the butter in it. Add the olive oil, then when hot, lay the trout fillets skin side down in the pan and cook for 3-5 minutes. Carefully flip with a thin, wide spatula and cook on the other side for another 3-5 minutes until golden brown, nearly opaque and the fish flakes easily with a fork. Don't overcook the fish!
Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing over the top of the pan fried trout.
Depending on the size of the trout, you may want 1 whole trout person, or less if they are particularly large.
Want to see the other states I’ve visited in my American Eats Series? Check them out below!
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