July 8, 2011 § 2 Comments
We all have our culinary demons. Rice that never fluffs, pastry that doesn’t crumble, poached eggs that are nothing close to spherical. Teeth gritted, numerous fonts of advice consulted, you try time and again to conquer those demons but success remains erratic and unpredictable and you start to avoid dishes that involve those components, or buy ready-made pastry, or buy a rice cooker. My personal one has been, for some time now, fish. Yep, just as broadly as that too – not specifically salmon, or shellfish, or grilled fish, but fish in all its permutations. Terrified of overcooking and serving dry and rubbery fillets, I normally end up with something on the plate that wouldn’t look out of place in a sushi restaurant, having then to return it to the pan for a second round of cooking, which results in the fillet being served in several chunks, with the other parts of the dish turning lukewarm in the meantime. And that’s if I even get to the point of having a piece of fish in the house to cook. Issues around fisheries and sustainability completely fog my mind and I’ve wasted many a half hour staring blankly at fish counters trying to figure out if it’s trout that should be farmed and not wild (yes) and if local farmed salmon is better than wild Alaskan salmon (no). At which point I generally pick up some chicken instead.
Enter, just in time, Becky Selengut and her recently published book, Good Fish. I’ve only cooked from it twice so far but I’ve read it cover to cover twice and it’s already changed the way I think about buying and cooking fish. First of all, sorry folks, but this is one for Pacific Coasters only. The book guides you through the choices that you have for sustainable fish if you are on the West Coast: it’s even slightly more geared towards the Pacific Northwest than California but the majority of the advice overlaps or is easily adapted. If you are in the UK I’d imagine Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nick Fisher’s The River Cottage Fish Book would be a good alternative if you are looking to figure out these thorny issues with the Atlantic in mind.
Leaving all that to one side, the other reason this book has given me a confidence boost in the face of fish is that the advice on cooking techniques is so clear and direct. After the success of the halibut curry, where the fish is cooked from the residual heat of the curry alone (and comes out perfectly), I felt ready to have a go at pan frying some fish: my ultimate culinary demon. I had been eyeing up some McFarland Springs trout which, if I have understood correctly, is about as good as it gets when it comes to sustainability issues. I picked up two beautiful, soft pink, slender fillets, along with some green beans which I pickled the day before (don’t be scared – it’s an incredibly simple and effective method). Alongside would be a handful of thin-skinned fingerling potatoes, and a bunch of multi-coloured carrots, roasted together with a generous amount of thyme. The joy of this recipe is that all the accompaniments are pretty much ready in advance, leaving you with nothing to worry about but doing right by the trout. I let my pan be hotter than I would normally countenance. I resisted all temptation to poke or prod the fish while it sizzled away. The removal of the cooked fish did give me a smidgen of trouble as the pan I use for this kind of thing is a bit too high in the sides for easy removal and I was lacking a good offset spatula to assist. But even the ever-so-slightly broken nature of the fish couldn’t detract from the fact it was perfectly cooked and topped with a nutty coriander butter sauce worth of plate-licking. Most of all, it was, thankfully, a long, long way from somewhat raw salmon. The demon, if not quite entirely conquered, has been tamed.
Pan-Fried Trout with Dilly Beans and Roasted Vegetables
Adapted from Becky Selengut’s Good Fish
For the dilly beans:
1/2 lb green beans, trimmed
1 bay leaf
1 cup white vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
For the vegetables:
1/2 lb fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise
1/4 lb carrots (approx – a little more would be fine), cut into large dice
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
4 sprigs thyme or lemon thyme
For the trout:
2 trout fillets, about 1/2 lb each
salt and black pepper
1 tsp unsalted butter
1 tsp high heat vegetable oil (grapeseed or canola for example)
1/4 cup dry white vermouth
For the coriander-lemon butter sauce:
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp ground coriander (ideally freshly ground from coriander seeds)
Begin by making the dilly beans in advance. They need to be prepared at least 24 hours in advance, but they are better for 48 hours of resting and you can keep them for up to 10 days in the refrigerator. Place the trimmed beans in a shallow heatproof container. Combine the remaining ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour the vinegar mixture over the beans while still hot and make sure the beans are fully submerged. Once the beans and vinegar have cooled, cover the container and refrigerate until needed. You’ll have more than you need but they are excellent alongside a cheese plate or tossed into salads so it’s worth making the larger amount.
Preheat the oven to 400F/200C. Place the potatoes and carrots on a sheet pan or in a baking pan. Toss with the olive oil, salt and pepper and spread out, placing the potatoes with the cut side face down. Tuck the thyme springs around the veg and roast in the oven, uncovered, for about 35 minutes, or until the vegetables are caramelised and tender. Discard the thyme and keep the veg warm while you prepare the fish. Put your plates in the oven at this point to warm too.
Season the trout fillets generously with salt and pepper. Heat a large, heavy saute pan over high heat. Add the butter and vegetable oil and cook the fillets with the skin side up for about 2 minutes. Flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes, or until lightly browned. Turn off the heat and remove the fish to the warmed plates with the veg alongside. Add the vermouth to the empty saute pan and stir to loose any trout bits and juices in the pan. Add the butter, lemon zest and coriander to the pan and swirl around for about 30 seconds, or until the butter is melted and you can just start to smell the coriander. Pour over the trout fillets and add the dilly beans to the plates. Serve!