Sunday, December 18, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Montana I - Get Yer Trout On

We are finally heading back to the Northwest, and Big Sky Country.  And unlike Missouri with its barbecue or Mississippi where you can find any typical Southern dish you can imagine, I pretty much know nothing about Montana and its food. Nope, nuthin'.  That's why I'm doing this project after all.

Official Name: State of Montana
State Nicknames: Big Sky Country
Admission to the US: November 8, 1889 (#41)
Capital: Helena (5th largest)
Other Important Cities: Billings (largest), Missoula (2nd largest), Great Falls (3rd largest)
 West, Northwest; Mountain (US Census)
RAFT NationsBison; Pinyon Nut
Bordered by: North & South Dakota (east); Wyoming (south); Idaho (west & southwest); British Columbia, Alberta & Saskatchewan (Canada) (north)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: grizzly bear (animal - no longer eaten); blackspotted cutthroat trout (fish); Ponderosa pine (tree - the pine nuts, of course, not the trees)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: frontier foods and Native American foods; huckleberries, chokecherries; beef & bison; game (venison, moose, etc) & trout.

Montana is a big place. A state stretching from the Northwest and the Rocky Mountains into the Great Plains.  Meredith Brokaw (yes, wife of that other, more famous Brokaw) grew up in neighboring South Dakota, and she describes Montana not just as Big Sky Country (which is also the name of her cookbook) but as a place of big dreams and big opportunities [Brokaw 2006: 13].  It's also big expanses between trips to the market, since things are a big more spread out.  Brokaw illustrates just how different - more foods that you grow yourself, more animals that you raise yourself, more fishing and hunting, and a lot less of heading to the supermarket for that least little thing:
...when you're seventeen miles from the nearest town you tend not to forget that quart of milk, so soon after [Tom and i] moved here I learned to run the kitchen not day to day but week to week, even month to month.  The pantry is stocked for two to three months at a time with the basics...and the garden gives forth all summer with vegetables and herbs of all kinds.  The freezers are all filled with bison and game, and the hen house is busy all the time, with each of the girls laying an egg a day.  It's a whole different way of life, and I like it.  Much of our sustenance comes from the land, and the kitchen is where we, not the shopping bags of exotic ingredients, make everything come together.. [Brokaw 2006: 22]
I wouldn't make it a week in Montana. I never remember everything at the supermarket, even with a grocery list.

So there is much reliance on what you get or grow yourself in and around you in Montana, combined with staples that you just don't forget.  This is reflected in the Native American, frontier and ranch recipes that I found in my research.  A nice collection of recipes is readily available at the official state travel site of Montana.  The collection contains many similar recipes you might find from Idaho, minus all the potatoes: several things made with huckleberries and chokecherries, wild game such as venison and - yes - elk, trout recipes, and so on.  Two trout recipes that jumped out at me were very simple recipes for baked and pan-fried trout.  I've fried so many things as of late - catfish, crab cakes, chicken, frybreads - that I just needed to bake for a change.  The Visit website reproduces the following recipe from the Butte's Heritage Cookbook by Jean McGrath.  It is a baked and stuffed trout, and one fish is meant to serve one person.

The Recipe: Baked Trout

For your baked trout you will need:

* trout (duh.  If you don't catch it yourself, why not just go ahead and get it cleaned and scaled while you're at it?  Mine cost about $6 at Wegman's)
* butter (for both the filling and the sauce, which all cooks in the same dish - had this)
* bread crumbs (had it)
* onions (or in this case, shallots, which is what I had on hand)
* mushrooms (I used dried oyster mushrooms which I had around.  I didn't even reconstitute them, but just cut them up and put them in)
* fresh parsley (from my garden plot)
* dried thyme and bay leaf (had them)
* salt and pepper (yes, I had this)
* lemon juice and white wine (had these, too - you will pour these over the fish to make the sauce)

Throw into a saucepan the butter, onion, mushrooms and parsley.

Add the spices and dried herbs while stirring and letting the butter melt.

And then add the bread crumbs.  That's all you need for your stuffing.

Meanwhile, take  baking dish, grease it with even more butter, and place your trout in the dish.

Stuff that trout!

Next you will go about making your sauce.  Melt some more butter...

...and pour it over the trout.  Next add the white wine and lemon juice, and you're ready to bake it.

Bake the trout for about 25 minutes at 400°F.

Sometimes the best way to prepare a fish is just by stuffing it, basting it and baking it.  My grandmother used to do this all the time with fish.  I'm not sure why I got away from this - it's just too easy!  This is a simple and delicious preparation, which seems to be the norm in Big Sky Country.  No need for pretense!  Really I don't have much else to say beyond that.


Brokaw, Meredith, and Ellen Wright.  Big Sky Cooking.  Artisan: New York, 2006.

Garritson, R.L. "Pemmican". Indigenous Food and Traditional Recipes.  Date posted unknown.  Copyright 2011 NativeTech.

"Kim" (contributor), "How to Make Pemmican – Great Snack for Hiking!"  The Nourishing Cook.  Posted 2010. Copyright 2011 The Nourishing Cook.  "Rendering Suet for Pemmican".  Date posted unknown.  Copyright 1998-2011

Sisson, Mark, "How to Make Pemmican". Mark's Daily Apple.  Posted May 22, 2009.  Copyright 2011 Mark's Daily Apple.

Visit Montana.  "Baked Trout".  Reprinted from Butte's Heritage CookbookJean McGrath, author (Butte-Silver Bow Arts Foundation: Butte, MT,1980)

White, Rix ("WildeRix").  "The Pemmican Brief".  Posted February 28, 2007.  Copyright 2011 WildeRix.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Montana" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Montana".