Taste the Wild

Fresh mountain trout from Smoke in Chimneys has chefs and fine purveyors hooked.

(Photo by Fred + Elliott)

In the hills and hollers of the Alleghenies, water flows underground as it has for centuries. Within millions of miles of limestone, the water courses, finding an outlet through the cold-water springs that dot the land. 

Craig County transplants Ty and Shannon Walker own one such spring, and it feeds the couple’s small trout hatchery, Smoke in Chimneys, which lies just ten feet below, alongside the Walkers’ home. There, the young couple, with the help of Shannon’s brother, Matthew, is on a mission to cultivate trout—Virginia’s state fish—worthy of culinary admiration.

It’s rare to see a chef rhapsodize over farm-raised trout, but the Walkers’ have that effect. Singing the praises of Smoke in Chimneys on Instagram, I see Donnie Glass—of Richmond’s Grisette and Jardin—and Top Chef alum Brittanny Anderson—of Brenner Pass and Metzger Bar & Butchery—both in the span of a week. When I mention this to Ty, the surprise of it sets him blushing.  

At Richmond seafood shop, Yellow Umbrella, my fishmonger Travis Marshall was practically giddy as he showed me their beautiful, shimmering fish, describing the Walkers’ old-timey operation with awe. “Because they feed on bugs and other natural food, the fish are happy, and you can taste it,” Marshall explains. “There’s a personal touch too because Ty harvests these healthy fish by hand.” Clearly, this is a different kind of farmed trout.

When Ty Walker first heard about an old trout hatchery for sale in New Castle, his first question was, “Where’s New Castle?” You’ll find it about 30 miles northwest of Roanoke. The 100 or so residents of this quiet Craig County town have lived in these mountains for as far back as they can remember.

The trout hatchery was built up the mountain in the 1930s by the Department of the Interior as a research facility. After about 50 years, the land was turned over to the state, and a house, now the Walkers’ home, was built on the property.

(Photo by Fred + Elliott)

On their first visit to New Castle, the place wasn’t much to behold. Wild with brush and overgrowth, to see any potential, you had to know where to look. The Walkers took a leap of faith and bought the hatchery, still unsure how it worked. Faith is a throughline for the couple, who met in a Bible study group as students at James Madison University. “Every decision we’ve ever made, from moving here to getting married, has been rooted in that,” says Shannon. 

Their first year in New Castle, the Walkers removed truckloads of debris and tried to figure out something essential—how to turn the water on. Word got out and soon Ty was put in touch with an elderly man who used to work at the hatchery. Ty offered to buy the man lunch if he’d come take a look. The man acquiesced, quietly climbing into Ty’s truck with a pipe wrench in his weathered hands.

“Now imagine,” says Ty, “the grass is all knee-high. He can barely walk around. He finds this old cast iron valve and turns it on, and water is just shooting everywhere. It was like a divine moment. I could see what this could be.”

Three years later, I find the Walkers painting a bedroom in their New Castle home, nesting in anticipation of their third child. While the divine water valve erased their lingering doubts, it didn’t provide much in the way of practical advice. That, Ty says, is scarce when it comes to operating a 100-year-old spring-fed trout hatchery that relies on gravity—not electricity or pumps—to move thousands of gallons of water every day.

(Photo by Fred + Elliott)

“If you Google how to start a trout hatchery, there’s nothing on the Internet, unless it’s about a multimillion- dollar facility using recycled water,” Ty says. “This is a totally open system—all fresh water.” So, he had to dig deeper. Eventually he found a blueprint in an old book on eBay. “The book made sense,” Ty says, “because it was written right around the same time this place was built.”

Across the street from the Walkers’ home, Ty snakes along a trail toward the springhouse. “Trout is 80 percent water,” he explains as he stops in front of a 16-inch cast-iron pipe. Water charges through it at 2,000 gallons per minute, feeding the raceways and ponds below. Ty is sitting on untold reserves of some of the freshest, cleanest water on the planet. The sound of it rushing is constant, like an ocean trapped in the mountains. Prehistoric and unending, it’s the lifeblood of the operation.

Folks around Craig County don’t care too much for trout that runs $14 a pound, Ty tells me. But chefs don’t seem to mind. At Richmond’s Grisette, Chef Donnie Glass and his team have been excited to serve it smoked or in sous chef Hans Doxzen’s “trout-á-touille,” an over-the-top presentation that makes a compelling argument for the state fish of Virginia, just as the Walkers were hoping it would. SmokeInChimneys.com 

Where To Find Them

Eats Natural Foods: 708 N Main St # A, Blacksburg  Roanoke

Co+op: 1319 Grandin Rd SW, Roanoke  

Yard Bull Meats: 2203 Crystal Spring Ave, Roanoke  

Melvins Farm To Fork: 1120 Peters Pike Rd, Wirtz  

Mountain & Field Market: 525 E Ridgeway St, Clifton Forge  

Wadels Farm Wagon: Staunton  

Ellwood Thompson’s: 4 N Thompson St, Richmond  

Good Food Grocery: 3062 Stony Point Rd, Richmond

(Photo by Fred + Elliott)

Trout Every Which Way

Chef Donnie Glass of Grisette, in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood, shares his favorite recipes starring Smoke in Chimneys’ fresh mountain trout. 

Trout Meunière with Pan Beurre Blanc

A classic preparation of any fairly thin filet of fish—“meunière”—literally means “the flour miller’s wife.” A little dusting of flour, a pan of gently browned butter, and a squeeze of lemon is all that’s required to earn the distinction.  

  • 2 trout, 1.5 lbs each,
  • fileted and pin boned, with heads, spines, and tails reserved
  • ½ cup Wondra flour
  • 1-2 oz. canola oil
  • 6 oz. butter, divided
  • 2 oz. white wine
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lemon, quartered

Pat the fish filets dry, season both sides liberally with salt and pepper and dust with Wondra flour.

Heat a sauté pan over a medium-high flame and add canola oil with 2 oz. of the butter. Once it’s melted and done foaming, allow the butter to gently brown until it’s fragrant and nutty. Add the fish to the pan, skin side down. You may have to work in batches, depending on the size of the pan.

Reduce heat to medium, and cook fish until the skin is browned thoroughly. To keep it from curling, gently weigh it down. As the skin side nears finishing, the filet will begin to look done around the edges. 

With a fish spatula, flip the filet over to the flesh side and turn off the heat. Baste the skin with brown butter. When it’s cooked just through, transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. Keep warm in a 200°F oven while you finish cooking the rest of the filets. 

Reduce heat to low-medium and add white wine to the pan. Simmer to reduce wine until almost dry and turn off the heat. 

Let the pan cool a bit, then begin stirring in the rest of the cold, cubed butter. To properly emulsify the butter with the wine reduction, the pan should be neither too hot nor too cold. It can be a tricky thing but, be patient, you’ll get the hang of it. 

When the sauce is done, transfer it to a gravy boat and serve fish with lemon.

(Photo by Fred + Elliott)

Smoked Trout Salad

“We smoke a lot of Smoke in Chimneys trout at Grisette because it is substantially fatty and takes a little smoke bath so nicely,” says Chef Glass. “Once smoked and flaked, it can go into any number of things—omelets, dips, spreads, salads, etc. This recipe turns it into a salad in the vein of chicken or tuna salad. It’s perfect smeared on bagels, either solo or in a sandwich, with lettuce, tomato, and pickles.

  • 2 whole trout, butterflied
  • ¼ cup salt
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sumac
  • 1 tablespoon thyme, minced
  • 2 cups applewood chips,
  • soaked in water for 30 minutes
  • ½ cup Duke’s mayonnaise
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • ¼ cup sour cream 
  • 2 tablespoons chives, minced
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, minced
  • 2 tablespoons shallots, minced
  • Salt, pepper, and lemon juice, to taste 

In a bowl, mix together the salt, brown sugar, sumac, and thyme. Sprinkle the mixture onto the flesh side of the fish and rub in well. If you have some left, distribute it evenly on the skin side. Place trout on a tray lined with a wire rack and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours and no longer than 24.  

Rinse the cure off the trout and pat dry. Prepare a smoker to medium heat. Once the smoke is coming on strongly, put the trout in and smoke for about 20 minutes. Remove from the smoker and let it cool. Refrigerate until cold throughout.

In a separate bowl, whisk together mayo, lemon zest, sour cream, herbs, and minced shallots. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Set aside.

Use your hands to pull the skin off the chilled smoked filet, removing any pin bones. Flake the trout in big chunks into a clean mixing bowl. Add dressing to your desired consistency. You likely won’t need it all. Reserve any unused dressing to refresh the trout just before serving.

(Photo by Fred + Elliott)

Fried Trout with Sorghum Gastrique

A countertop deep fryer is ideal for this recipe. If using a pot, choose one larger than you think you’ll need, for safety’s sake. 

  • 1 whole trout per person,
  • butterflied, head on 
  • Buttermilk spiked with hot sauce to taste, enough to submerge your trout
  • Eggs, enough to dredge all of your trout 
  • A dredge of 2 parts cornmeal, 2 parts all-purpose flour, 1 part cornstarch, enough to dredge all of your trout 
  • 1 part sorghum 
  • 2 parts apple cider vinegar 
  • 2 parts bourbon 
  • Aromatics (bay leaf, cinnamon stick, thyme, chile de arbol, etc) 
  • Salt and pepper 
  • Chives, to garnish 

Submerge the fish in the buttermilk for an hour or two (but not overnight). While your trout is soaking, make the gastrique.

In a thick-bottomed saucepot, bring the sorghum, vinegar, bourbon, and aromatics to a simmer and let reduce by three quarters. Be careful not to let the pot boil over. When reduced, strain and chill. 

Stored in a squeeze bottle, the gastrique will hold nearly indefinitely in the fridge. It’s best used at room temperature.  

In a bowl or large container, thoroughly combine the flour, cornmeal, and cornstarch, and season the mixture with salt and pepper. In another large container, whisk together the eggs. 

Remove trout from buttermilk and dip into the dry dredge to coat, then into the egg, and then into the dry dredge again. Transfer the breaded trout to a sheet tray lined with a wire rack. 

You’re ready to fry at this point. But if you have an hour or two, put the breaded trout in the fridge. This tends to help the dredge stick to the fish better. 

Heat oil to 350°F. Working in batches, lower your trout into the hot oil gently and slowly, making sure your pan is not overcrowded or overflowing. Fry for about 5 minutes, till done. 

The thicker the fish, the longer it takes to fry. When done, the breading should be golden brown and the fish should be cooked throughout. To test for doneness, pull one out of the oil after 5 minutes and check flesh at the thickest point.

Once done, remove fish from the oil, season with salt immediately, and place on a paper-towel-lined plate while you fry the rest of the trout. If you need to warm hold them in a 200°F oven, that’s totally fine. 

Once all the trout is cooked, plate it up and drizzle generously with the gastrique.  Garnish with chives and serve with classic picnic sides like potato salad or coleslaw.

(Photo by Fred + Elliott)

Whole Roasted Trout

“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” —Coco Chanel

With ultra high-quality ingredients, less is more in our kitchen. Roasting this fish whole and picking it apart with a fork and your fingers is our idea of maximum enjoyment, reminiscent of picking blue crabs or peeling shrimp. Keep side dishes simple to let the fish shine.

  • 1 whole trout, 1.5 lbs. each,
  • scaled and gutted 
  • Salt and pepper 
  • 1 lemon, sliced thinly 
  • 2 oz. whole thyme 
  • 2 oz. olive oil 

Remove trout from the fridge and season liberally. Let it rest on the counter for 1 hour to allow salt to set into the skin and flesh. 

While you wait, slice a lemon into thin wheels and preheat the oven to 400°F.

Pat the fish dry and fill the cavity with lemons and thyme. Brush with olive oil and give it one last season. 

Place fish on a wire rack over a baking sheet and place in the oven. 

Bake for 12 minutes, then insert a meat thermometer into the thick part of the fish, behind the collar.  When it reads 130°F, the fish is done. 

There’s no need to let the fish rest—transfer it to a serving platter and dig right in.

(Photo by Fred + Elliott)

This article originally appeared in the June 2023 issue.

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