Every year I pack up my car for the eighteen-hour drive from my Alabama home to my family cabin in the New Mexico Rockies. I always include an ice chest with dry ice to transport the many ingredients I’ve prepared, frozen, and vacuum-packed, from coffee-rubbed hanger steaks and maple-brined pork chops to garden pesto, countless sauces, and blended bases for cocktails. This makes it easy to feed the legions of friends and family who visit and helps me avoid multiple trips down the mountain to a small grocery store that stocks only the bare basics.
One thing I can count on procuring when I arrive is lots of fresh trout plucked from the icy Cimarron River just outside the cabin door. Whether I’m cooking the fish in a cast-iron skillet on the stovetop, or in foil packets on the grill or over the campfire, having logs of prepared compound butter is my secret weapon for delicious trout dinners. Not only does the infused butter baste the fish as it cooks, it also creates a rich sauce to pour over everything once the meal is plated. Herbs and aromatics are the typical additions, but a splash of liqueur adds a dose of sublime flavor to this rustic foil-pack recipe. As the butter melts during cooking, the liquid becomes steam, and the distilled flavors in the liqueur permeate the delicate flesh of the fish. Anise-flavored liqueurs like Pernod, pastis, and absinthe are classics with fish and shellfish, and I find that the sweet herbal notes of New Orleans–produced Herbsaint paired with fresh mountain trout is a particularly holy union.