Mr. Bunkycooks has Gone Fishin’ at the Sunburst Trout Farm in Canton, North Carolina!

Mr. Bunkycooks has Gone Fishin’ at the Sunburst Trout Farm in Canton, North Carolina!

This is another post in the On the Road with Bunkycooks series. This time we traveled to a trout farm in the Shining Rock Wilderness Area in Western North Carolina!

I arranged for the Bunkycooks to meet with Sally Eason, who is the CEO and second generation of Sunburst Trout Company. I just had to go and see where this fabulous trout was coming from that we had on several occasions at Madison’s restaurant in Highlands, North Carolina and at Canyon Kitchen in Cashiers, North Carolina. Mr. Bunkycooks is also now totally addicted to Sunburst’s smoked trout after having it at The Grove Park Inn in Asheville.

Well, I went to round up Mr. Bunkycooks to head off to Sunburst Trout and obviously, there was a bit of a misunderstanding because I found him in his waders! I guess when I said “trout farm” he thought we were going fishing!

What is he thinking??

So, in order to solve the problem and get this urge to go fishing out of the way, we quickly headed off to one of the nearby lakes and went fishing! Since we were in a hurry, we couldn’t really do much serious fishing, so this is what Mr. Bunkycooks caught! Since this fish wasn’t going to even be enough for an appetizer, we released the poor little guy and headed off to find some real fish at Sunburst!

You call this a FISH?!

The Bunkycooks have been reluctant to eat farm raised fish because of mercury levels, PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls) and other contaminants in most of what we know as “farm raised fish”. When we had this trout, we realized there was something very different and wanted to see what they were doing to create such a delicious and fresh fish.

We met with Sally Eason and her daughter-in-law, Anna (who is a big Tweeter!) to talk about why their fish is so special at Sunburst. I was also feeling like a rockstar honored to be able to meet with Sally since Bobby Flay and Jacques Pepin have been to Sunburst. There have also been a number of articles written about Sunburst, including this one about Sally in Forbes Magazine.

Besides all the star quality stuff, I know their trout is special because I am not a fish lover normally, but this fish is sooo different and so good that even I will eat it! I find their trout to have an incredibly mild flavor and a firmer texture than a wild-caught trout.

Sunburst was started by Sally’s father, Dick Jennings, back in 1948. It was the first commercial trout farm in the South. The original trout farm was on their family land in Cashiers, North Carolina. They moved to this location in Canton, North Carolina in 1965. You can read the entire history of Sunburst Trout Farms on their website. It really is fascinating.

Originally, they had trout ponds, but then built raceways after a couple years of droughts where they lost most of the fish. The raceways are far more efficient and much cleaner for trout farming. The water that runs through these raceways originates in the Shining Rock Wilderness Area in the Pisgah National Forest and flows right into Lake Logan which directly feeds their raceways. This farm is also located in the shadow of Cold Mountain (yes, that Cold Mountain of movie fame!).

Isn’t Lake Logan just beautiful? Makes you want to move there, huh?!

When they moved to this location, they had no idea how fortunate they were. Their water source is part of the reason that their fish tastes so mild. They are also able to create a situation that can mimic the wild and is almost more optimal for raising their trout than growing in the wild. The water flows through the raceways at a rate of 12,000 gallons of water per minute. That sure sounds like a whole lot of water to me! This rate of water flow also keeps the raceways very clean, so it is not a traditional farming situation. Their trout does not contain any of the harmful pesticides, PCB’s or mercury normally associated with farm raised fish. I am sure that is also why is tastes so good!

The temperatures in the water at Sunburst range from 50’s to 60’s in the Winter and can be in the 60’s in the Summer. One interesting fact is that a water temperature of 73 degrees is lethal for trout. We never knew that and obviously, that is a concern with this incredibly hot Summer. Sally did say that a good rain will quickly cool down the temperatures of the water, so thank goodness for those afternoon showers that we have here in the South!

We also wanted to know why their trout is such a pretty reddish/pink color. Most of the trout I have had has a really gross rather unappealing grayish cast. Sunburst Trout is Rainbow Trout, not a hybrid (which might explain the pinkish flesh). The pinkish tint for the Sunburst trout is actually created by a naturally occurring carotenoid called astaxanthin. This is a powerful antioxidant that comes from Phaffia yeast and microalgae (and I bet you didn’t know any of that and nor did I prior to our visit!). It is added to the special feed that Sunburst has created for their trout.

This fancy machine removes the pin bones from the trout.

The amazing thing to me is how quickly the harvest process is (one hour). They harvest about 2,000 pounds of trout per day four days a week. We were able to follow the entire process from taking the trout out of the raceways to seeing (and getting to take home!) the final fillets. (I will however, skip some of those photos with all the details!) The average size of a harvested trout ranges between 2 to 3 1/2 pounds.

Steve Eason (one of the owners) removes pin bones that the machine misses.

In addition to selling to many local chefs and businesses, Sunburst ships some of their trout to chefs all over the country (as far away as California). Sally said that some chefs insist on 6 to 7 ounce fillets and others want 7 to 9 ounces (we all know how fussy chefs can be!). A few even want them with pin bones in! (You can take mine out before sending me home with the fish!) The larger fish are also used for their cold smoked trout (that is Mr. Bunkycooks favorite!). This cold smoked process is a revival of a centuries old Scottish tradition of smoked rainbow trout. Wow! If it’s been around that long…no wonder it’s so good!!

Wes Eason is in the final stages of processing the trout fillets.

When I asked Sally about the shelf life of the trout, she said that because it is harvested so quickly (we saw it with our own eyes!) and the fish will be in coolers at 36 degrees within an hour of harvesting, their trout will hold for 12 days! She said that this is not true for every species of fish and varies depending on how clean the water is where the fish originates. Obviously, their water must be really clean!

Their trout is being shipped fresh within 2 hours of harvesting!

In addition to the fast processing, Sally said their water source is another reason for the long shelf life. Their water has a very acidic base because of the forest and the hardwoods and this makes a difference in how long the fish will stay fresh. Here is a nifty tip. If you ever need to freeze fresh fish, be sure to add a little bit of milk to the freezer bag. Calcium will help preserve the tissue of the fish better.

I must say that this visit was truly a pleasure. The Eason family works side by side in this business doing everything from harvesting the trout to picking out those nasty old pin bones! We have even seen Steve Eason (Sally’s hubby) delivering their yummy trout dip to local stores.

This is yet another wonderful farm here in Western North Carolina that is producing and supplying local and sustainable food. Sunburst is certified by ASAP (Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project). Thank you to all the Easons that I met that day (and see around town periodically!). We know that we were were running around with cameras in your faces a little bit in the way while you were in the harvesting process, so we appreciate you allowing us to do that.

I wish I had some smoked trout dip to go with my glass of wine right about now!

The Bunkycooks took home some fresh trout fillets and an assortment of other trout products. The dip and the cold smoked trout barely made it home thanks to Mr. Bunkycooks! If any readers are interested, you can order any of the Sunburst Trout products through their website. They will pack your goodies in dry ice and send them your way overnight! You can also find their products at select stores and farmers’ markets. If you have never tried this trout, I suggest you do! It is totally different than any other trout you will ever have!

This is the purtiest fresh fish I have ever seen! I could not wait to prepare it!

The only thing we have not devoured yet is the caviar. Mr. Bunkycooks likes it, but I am on the fence, so we are saving it for a fancy cocktail party with caviar eating friends. Anna Eason says that her two little girls (the 4th generation of Sunburst) devour the stuff and fight over it. Maybe I should invite them over to eat it!

Now if Mr. Bunkycooks would only quit fishing! I have some trout in the cooler!

Below is a recipe for Sunburst Trout that was inspired by a buttermilk salad dressing that I had at The Grove Park Inn. I thought the flavors in it would be a perfect accompaniment to the mild taste of the trout. I was right! It was delicious!

Sunburst Trout with a Buttermilk Vidalia Onion and Chive Sauce

Serves 2


2 Sunburst trout fillets (9 ounces each) or any other nice, fresh trout fillets
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons sour cream (I used low-fat)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon finely chopped Vidalia onion
1/8 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped chives
Fresh lime slices


Rinse trout fillets and gently pat dry with paper towels. Place in a large glass pan, flesh side up.

Whisk the first six ingredients together. Drizzle some of this mixture over trout to marinate (just enough to mostly cover the top of the fish). I used about a half of the mixture. Let this sit for thirty minutes.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, with just enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the skillet (one or two tablespoons). When the skillet is very hot, add the trout flesh side down. Sear for approximately for to five minutes until it is nicely caramelized. Carefully turn fish over and sear skin side until almost crispy, another two or three minutes. Do not over cook the fish! Remove from the pan and place on a serving dish.

Mix the chives into the remaining buttermilk mixture and drizzle over the fish. Serve with a nice squeeze of fresh lime juice.

45 Responses to “Mr. Bunkycooks has Gone Fishin’ at the Sunburst Trout Farm in Canton, North Carolina!”

  1. 1

    Martha Glass — August 9, 2010 @ 9:41 am

    Just another great article by Bunkycooks helping farmers in NC show folks how local food and fish are so good for what ails you!

    • bunkycooks replied: — August 9th, 2010 @ 7:08 pm

      Thank you Martha!

      It’s good for what ails me! I actually crave this fish and that is something I have never done before! Lobster maybe, but never trout!


  2. 2

    Belinda @zomppa — August 9, 2010 @ 10:18 am

    Great article! I love how they have managed a sustainable way of fishing. That fish is pretty neat-looking, and trout and vidalia must be such a great match. Thanks for caring and sharing.

    • bunkycooks replied: — August 9th, 2010 @ 7:14 pm

      Thank you Belinda!

      Their way of farming trout will become even more important as we experience the loss of more fish and seafood from the oceans and rivers. This sauce/dressing was perfect and light for the trout. I hope you give it a try!


  3. 3

    Cookin' Canuck — August 9, 2010 @ 10:42 am

    The color of that trout is so pretty! I love that he appeared, fully decked out in his waders.

    • bunkycooks replied: — August 9th, 2010 @ 7:11 pm

      Hi Dara,

      Mr. Bunkycooks has lost his mind, but we are having fun! BTW, the trout is beautiful. I have never seen or tasted anything like it.


  4. 4

    Roger (Mr. Bunkycooks) — August 9, 2010 @ 10:49 am

    The things that I have to do…… I work for great food.

    • bunkycooks replied: — August 10th, 2010 @ 5:44 pm

      Yeah, yeah, yeah…;)

  5. 5

    The Cilantropist — August 9, 2010 @ 11:58 am

    Wow! This sounds like an awesome place, you were so fortunate to get to visit and see all the “behind-the-scenes” action and share it with us! I will defintiely check out their website! Plus, Mr. Bunkycooks looks like a pretty serious fisherman, I am impressed. :)

    • bunkycooks replied: — August 9th, 2010 @ 7:01 pm

      Hi there!

      Sunburst Trout was a fun place to visit and the Easons are delightful people! Their trout truly is phenomenal. You should try it if you can!

      Mr. Bunkycooks has done a fair amount of fishing over the years, so he has all the gear. However, that was one sorry fish that he caught in that photo! :(


  6. 6

    Monet — August 9, 2010 @ 7:36 pm

    Another great post! I love trout, and it was exciting to see the process it takes to move it from the water to my plate. ( I love how you focus on so much sustainable food production) And what a tempting dish you featured! I was drooling at first site. Thanks for sharing.

    • bunkycooks replied: — August 10th, 2010 @ 5:46 pm

      Hi Monet,

      Thank you for the comment. There are so many great farmers in this area that are all focused on providing great, local food. It is a pleasure to get to know them and write about it and cook the good stuff! :)


  7. 7

    David — August 9, 2010 @ 9:36 pm

    I have been concerned about farm raised seafood. It is nice to know that there are farms like this that ensure the quality and purity of their product. It just goes to show that you really need to know where your food comes from. Thanks again for showcasing these small, sustainable farms. They are so important to our future.

    • bunkycooks replied: — August 10th, 2010 @ 5:50 pm

      I agree, David. I think that there definitely is an increase (in this part of the country anyway), to go back to smaller farms and find ways to become sustainable.

      I think Sunburst has done a great job of providing a premium trout in a safe and pesticide-free environment. I do think that we will have to rely on these types of farms for much of our fish in the future. Hopefully, others will follow Sunburst’s lead.

  8. 8

    The Mom Chef — August 9, 2010 @ 10:41 pm

    What a gloriously perfect North Carolina day you had for that visit. I’m glad that there are folks around that care so much about the environment and fish. It’s also nice to see some in our back yard. Thanks for another wonderful post.

    • bunkycooks replied: — August 10th, 2010 @ 5:52 pm

      The weather has been glorious, but hot! There are many folks in this part of the country that are really concerned with providing a safe and delicious food product. It is great to be able to get to meet some of them!

  9. 9

    Brian @ A Thought For Food — August 9, 2010 @ 11:03 pm

    What a great and informative post this is! And the recipe… it sounds so delicious and the pics are stunning!

  10. 10

    FrenchPressMemos — August 9, 2010 @ 11:04 pm

    I have been and still am pretty paranoid about farm raised fish- for some reason I decided to research and write a paper on practices of salmon farming when I was in law school- random, I know. What I learned there made me very fearful of farm raised. It looks like there is hope though! Beautiful picture at the top!

    • bunkycooks replied: — August 10th, 2010 @ 9:03 pm

      I think you will find that this trout is very different. We will never buy farm raised fish, but now that I have seen where this comes from and know the story, I will only buy this trout. Otherwise, we will only buy wild caught fish from the ocean.

  11. 11

    Kim at Rustic Garden Bistro — August 10, 2010 @ 1:24 am

    Dear Mr. and Mrs. Bunkycooks:

    Please take us with you on your next adventure.


    Mr. and Mrs. RGBistro

    P.S. I LOVE reading about your travels!!!

    • bunkycooks replied: — August 10th, 2010 @ 9:04 pm

      Hi Kim!

      I think it would be fun to do a post together! You need to head our way or we can head out West sometime…it would be fun! We all have great food and wine!


  12. 12

    penny aka jeroxie — August 10, 2010 @ 2:10 am

    gosh… bring on more stories. love it

    • bunkycooks replied: — August 10th, 2010 @ 10:15 pm

      Hi Penny,

      We love doing it! Thanks!

      I hope we will be able to continue the stories!


  13. 13

    Julie M. — August 10, 2010 @ 9:06 am

    This was great! Cashiers is on my list of places to visit; I’ve been told it’s beautiful. This farm looks like they’ve got the right idea and that fish looks so fresh and delicious! What a great adventure, thank you for sharing it with us!

    • bunkycooks replied: — August 10th, 2010 @ 10:17 pm

      Hi Julie,

      This farm is actually in Canton, NC. It is not too far from Cashiers. All of Western NC is a pretty place, so you cannot go wrong visiting this part of the country!


  14. 14

    Conor @ HoldtheBeef — August 10, 2010 @ 10:01 am

    I ADORE smoked trout and am sure if I were also in the car with you, there would definitely be nothing left but a little fishy smell by the time we got home!

    • bunkycooks replied: — August 10th, 2010 @ 10:18 pm

      Hi Connor,

      I think we should share some smoke trout! If you can party with Mardi, you can party with us! :)

      Mr. & Mrs. Bunkycooks

  15. 15

    Denise@There's a Newf in My Soup! — August 10, 2010 @ 11:02 am

    I’m so happy the Bunkycooks have been “on the road” so much, and appear to be having a grand time, because these are fabulous posts, taking a look behind the scenes. I didn’t know Mr. Bunkycooks was such a fly fishing fan! I LOVE fly fishing and would have probably been in my waders too if you mentioned trout. The smoked trout, and your creation with the buttermilk sauce, both sound delicious!

    • bunkycooks replied: — August 10th, 2010 @ 10:20 pm

      Hi Denise,

      We are having fun and I am really enjoying meeting some new folks. If you head our way you know the fly fishing will be great…bring your waders!


    • Roger (Mr. Bunkycooks) replied: — August 11th, 2010 @ 9:04 am

      The French Broad river and the Davidson river flow through Western North Carolina and are rated top trout rivers in the United States. The mountains of North Carolina are truly beautiful with lots to do.

  16. 16

    Drick — August 10, 2010 @ 11:10 am

    what a great company and a great way of farming fish in natural waters – and the trout recipe, I can’t wait to try this one, it sounds incredible

    • bunkycooks replied: — August 10th, 2010 @ 10:21 pm

      Hi Drick,

      I hope you will try this dish…in between the wild NOLA cooking!


  17. 17

    Charles Hudson — August 10, 2010 @ 12:55 pm

    Great Photos! The Buttermilk Trout looks sounds Great! We may be asking you if we can use it for our recipe of the month in September.

  18. 18

    bunkycooks — August 10, 2010 @ 10:23 pm

    Hi Charles,

    I am glad that you enjoyed the photos. You can definitely use the recipe next month! That would be great.


  19. 19

    Magic of Spice — August 11, 2010 @ 12:30 am

    The trout dish is superb (and glad you explained about the coloring…I seriously thought it to be a salmon)…Wonderful write up. I must say I am an all wild caught girl, but I am appreciative of them from the information in your post…I like what they are doing from what I have read here. Love the photos, especially Mr. Bunkycooks and his prize catch, adorable :)

    • bunkycooks replied: — August 11th, 2010 @ 8:52 am

      The color of the fish really is very pretty and their trout has a really nice firm texture. It is not mushy like some other trout I have had. I hope that other fish farms start to operate more like Sunburst. I think we would all have second thoughts about farm raised fish then.

  20. 20

    Sara — August 11, 2010 @ 5:02 am

    Wow. That is one of the most delicious looking trouts I have ever seen. Love the post too.

  21. 21

    5 Star Foodie — August 11, 2010 @ 9:37 am

    Great to learn about Sunburst, what a wonderful experience. The trout is so pretty and you’ve made an excellent dish with it!

    • bunkycooks replied: — August 11th, 2010 @ 10:52 pm

      Hi @sara

      Thank you for the comments. This was a lot of fun and I had their trout several times prior to the visit, so I was really excited to see their farm!

  22. 22

    Devaki @ weavethousandflavors — August 11, 2010 @ 12:27 pm

    Dear Gwen – What a wonderful, educational article – finally the mystery of why some trout look like pink salmon – solved!!!

    So wonderful that you are doing these posts and we are all so much more informed becuase of your efforts. The sauce on the fish is lovely and I must try it soon and hooray for farm raised fish :)

    Hugs, Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

    PS – Come on now, you can’t deny Mr. Bunky his opportunity to play dress up :)

    • bunkycooks replied: — August 11th, 2010 @ 10:48 pm

      Hi Devaki,

      Yes, Mr. Bunkycooks is having fun…it has come to this?! That is what he says, but it still is fun!

      This farm raised fish is so different. After seeing this trout farm, we feel more confident in eating this fish than we do in most wild caught fish from unknown sources.


  23. 23

    Evan@sweets — August 11, 2010 @ 8:39 pm

    Who doesn’t love trout?! such a delicious sounding recipe.. you get to go on some pretty cool adventures and meet some awesome people along the way!

  24. 24

    Pam — August 12, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

    That’s some good looking trout and your photos are great! I’m new here and will be looking at more of your stories! Love your writing!

    • bunkycooks replied: — August 13th, 2010 @ 8:28 pm

      I am glad that you stopped by Pam and hope you will come back often!

  25. 25

    denise @ quickies on the dinner table — August 13, 2010 @ 10:54 pm

    That is a gorgeous trout recipe! Love the presentation and photo :) Mr Bunkycooks looks adorable in his waders ROFL

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