Food & Drink

Smoked Trout Cakes

Appalachian essence and Gulf Coast roots converge

Photo: Courtesy of Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro

Many Southerners can trace ancestries from the mountains to the shore all under the Mason-Dixon line, and we have a special knack for embracing both newly sprouted and deeply rooted culinary lineages. In this dish, executive chef Jeff Carter of Dancing Bear Lodge and Appalachian Bistro in Townsend, Tennessee, brings the sunny Gulf Coast, where he was born and raised, and the highlands of Appalachia, where he practices his craft, to the table. Crab cakes were a staple of his diet growing up, but the landlocked mountain region offers a freshwater substitute. “We love to take advantage of the fresh ingredients of our area, like rainbow trout, to demonstrate how our community has been sourcing and eating for so many generations,” Carter says. “Smoked proteins are at the foundation of Appalachian cuisine, so we incorporate the technique to truly pay homage to the area’s food heritage.”

For this twist on a classic crab cake, you can use the oven if you don’t have a smoker, and you can even purchase smoked trout ahead of time as a shortcut (see note below).

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  • For the smoked trout (Yield: about 3½ lb.)

    • 5 lb. rainbow trout

    • 5-6 quarts herb brine

  • For the brine

    • 5 bay leaves

    • 2 tbsp. black peppercorns

    • 1 oz. fresh thyme

    • 1 oz. fresh parsley

    • 1 oz. tarragon

    • ½ cup brown sugar

    • 1 cup kosher salt (or smoked salt if using oven)

    • 1 lemon, sliced

    • 1 gallon water

  • For the trout cakes (Yield: about 24 cakes)

    • 3½ lb. smoked rainbow trout

    • 2 medium eggs

    • 3 scallions, sliced diagonally, green and white parts separated

    • ¼ cup Italian parsley, chopped

    • ½ cup red onion, minced

    • 1¼ cups mayonnaise

    • ¼ cup Dijon mustard

    • 1½ tbsp. Tabasco sauce

    • ½ tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

    • ½ tsp. cayenne powder

    • 1½ lemons, juiced and zested

    • ½ tbsp. kosher salt

    • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

    • 2 cups panko breadcrumbs, divided into individual cups


  1. Make the herb brine: Combine all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil, making sure all salt and sugar is dissolved.

  2. In a 2-gallon container, add about 1 quart of ice. Pour brine over the ice, then fill the container with water until the total amount of brine is 6 quarts.

  3. Make sure the brine is completely cool before using. If necessary, put brine in the refrigerator until cold.

  4. If making the trout in a smoker: Place trout in a plastic container or pot that will hold about 3 gallons.

  5. Pour cold brine over trout to cover. Brine trout in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

  6. Pull trout out and place on smoking racks, skin side down, and discard brine.

  7. If you have time, let the trout sit in the refrigerator on the racks for 1 hour before smoking. This forms a pellicle on the trout, which helps the smoke adhere to the fish.

  8. Smoke trout at 225°F for approximately 1 hour.

  9. Chill the smoked filets, then remove the skins and discard.

  10. If making the trout in an oven: In the brine recipe, substitute smoked salt for the kosher salt and then follow the recipe as written.

  11. Once trout has been brined for 1 hour, remove the trout from brine and discard the brine.

  12. Preheat your oven to 225°F.

  13. Place brined trout skin-side down on baking racks with baking pans below to catch any dripping.

  14. Pat the flesh of the fish with paper towels to dry.

  15. Place the pans with the fish in the oven and slow-cook the trout for about an hour, or until the flesh is firm and flaky.

  16. Chill the filets, then remove the skins and discard.

  17. Make the trout cakes: In a large bowl, combine eggs, scallions, parsley, onion, mayo, mustard, Tabasco, Worcestershire, cayenne, lemon juice and zest, salt, and pepper. Mix well until evenly distributed. 

  18. Fold in smoked trout and 1 cup of breadcrumbs, trying not to break up the trout.

  19. Cover the mixture and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until it has tightened up, allowing to be molded.

  20. On a rimmed baking sheet, add the remaining cup of breadcrumbs and spread into a thin layer.

  21. Pack the trout mixture in a small biscuit cutter or ring mold (about 1½ inches tall and 2½ inches wide) and push or gently shake the cake onto the panko-lined pan to bread the bottom. Then gently flip the cake over and bread the top, taking care not to bread the sides. Continue this process until you have used all the mixture.

  22. Preheat oven to 375°F.

  23. In a skillet, add clarified butter or vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Pan-fry each cake until golden brown on top and bottom.

  24. Remove each cake from the skillet and add onto a clean sheet pan.

  25. At this point the cakes can be refrigerated for future use or placed in the oven to cook for about 4–5 minutes, or until the center is hot.

  26. Remove from the oven and serve with comeback sauce and a side salad.

  27. Note: If you can’t find rainbow trout, you may substitute any species of trout. Your cooking/smoking times will vary depending on the size and thickness of your fish, so just make sure you cook it to an internal temperature of 145°F. 





  28. If trout is not available, you can substitute char or salmon, realizing this will change the flavor of the final product.

  29. Smoked trout can be purchased online, but make sure to avoid the fish packed in oil. Only purchase trout that is packed by itself with no oil.