For the first time ever, today I will be featuring a guest blogger: my very own little brother. I had the fortune of spending most of my East Coast vacation with him, the majority of which was at my parents cottage in the Poconos. He lives there permanently, for the surrounding woods and lakes provide a peaceful place to write his future bestselling novel. I’m proud of him for his independence, adaptability and budding culinary skills. Without further adieu, my brother’s post…
A few days ago, my oenophilic sister perfectly described the process of a properly cooked FLC picnic. As she noted, there really is nothing like it: mountains of greasy potatoes, marinated veggies, slabs of steak, racks of ribs, cases of beer and wine, and, if you’re so fortunate, freshly caught trout. To cook (and not ruin) all this fare on a clumsy wooden fire is the ultimate FLC talent; just as to be lakeside, wining and dining with friends and family, is the ultimate FLC occasion.
My evenings are not normally so lively. I am alone for dinner most of the time. But like every other member of my family, I enjoy my food and wine. Sadly, after the Memorial Day festivities, and my failure to go grocery shopping, I was left with few options for Wednesday night dinner. I found a frozen trout in the freezer, orzo in the cabinet, and spinach, onions, and radicchio in the fridge. The result was the best meal I’ve cooked since I’ve moved.
I should explain, however, before I divulge my dinner preparations, the appropriate way to clean a fresh, wild trout. There is no need to filet a trout. If cooked carefully you should simply be able to pull the spine right out of the fish. Not to mention that the trout retains its natural oils and flavors much better with the bones in. So, unless you have a pan large enough to cook a whole fish, follow these steps to clean your wild trout:
- Remove the head.
- Cut smoothly along the belly to open the fish.
- Remove all internal organs and the central vein.
- Remove all fins.
- Make two shallow cuts along both sides of the spine (so as to easily remove the bones when the fish is cooked).
- Remove the tail.
If frozen immediately after cleaning, as this fish was, it will taste as fresh as the day it was caught.
Out of the four trout I had in the freezer, I chose the one brook trout (Pennsylvania’s state fish), which tends to be a little sweeter than a brown trout. Truth be told, this very trout was caught, cleaned, and donated to me by Beginner Bob himself. Its meat was bright orange, the true mark of any wild trout or salmon. I put the fish in an airtight Ziploc bag, ran it under hot water, and started to prepare the orzo while waiting for it to thaw:
- Pour a layer of olive oil into a large frying pan and turn to medium.
- Take a handful of cherry tomatoes and cut each in half.
- Finely chop three cloves of garlic.
- Cook until the garlic is brown.
- Add red pepper flakes to taste.
While waiting for the tomatoes and garlic to cook, boil water for the orzo, pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees, and prepare the trout rub, which consists of:
- A half cup to a cup of flour (depending on the size of the fish)
- A good amount of Old Bay Seasoning
- Garlic powder
- Black Pepper
Cover a baking sheet with tinfoil. Layer it with canola oil and whatever white wine you have in the fridge. I actually used the remains of a very light rose, the Chateau Revelette, which worked quite well. By this point the trout should be thawed and ready to season. Turn the fish over in the oil and wine and use your hands to completely cover its skin in rub. Don’t be afraid to get messy.
By now the garlic is brown, so pour the entire mixture of tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil into a medium-sized serving bowl. Return the frying pan to the stovetop, which should still be hot. Place the fish onto the frying pan and cook for three to five minutes on each side, or until the skin is crispy.
Although the orzo water may be boiling, let it sit. Don’t start the orzo until the trout is in the oven, as both take about 12-15 minutes to cook. So take the time to squeeze a few lemons onto the baking sheet, check the score of the Yankee game, and open the wine that you’ll be having with dinner. I opted for a Spanish white, the 2010 Las Brisas.
The acidity of Spanish whites compliments seafood much better than, say, a Chardonnay would. This particular wine is more or less an Albarino, and can be found at your local wine store for anywhere between $11-13. You’ll smell white peaches and grass in the nose and just enough butter in the mouth to counter some of the acid.
Now that you’ve sufficiently swished and swirled you’re ready to put the trout into the oven. Make sure both sides are golden brown and crispy. Take note of the time. Dinner is 15 minutes away.
Pour a cup of orzo (I wanted leftovers) into the boiling water, and get started on the veggies. At this point, the only vegetables I have in the fridge are a bag of spinach, half of a red onion, and some radicchio. Save a dish and sauté the three in the same pan as you did the tomatoes, garlic, and trout. (Just like Huck Finn, I find it best when flavors “swap” around with each other). Prepare the veggies like so:
- Melt a slice of butter into the pan to liquefy the leftover trout spices.
- Chop the onions and radicchio and add to the pan.
- After a few minutes, evenly spread the spinach throughout the pan.
- Stir continuously, occasionally checking on the progress of the orzo.
Once the veggies are shriveled and juicy, reduce to simmer. When the orzo satisfies
your particular pasta pallet – I like mine al dente – pour into a colander. Add the orzo to the bowl with the tomatoes, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Add Parmesan and salt (garlic salt, in my case) to taste.
Remove the trout from the oven. Take a peak inside. The fish should appear gradually pinker toward the bone, like the middle of thick piece of salmon. This is a fresh fish so don’t worry about the center being rare. For too long I was overcooking my trout, and only recently did I realize how much more flavor is retained in a properly cooked fish. There are many things that can kill me; undercooked meat will not be one of them. (If you knew me when I was younger, this is quite the turn around. Perhaps one day I will guest blog about our family vacation to Hilton Head, when my fear for food-born bacteria led to the most amazing coincidence of my lifetime. Another blog, another day).
You are now ready to enjoy your food and wine. When attacking your trout, I suggest eating from the outside in. Once you begin to approach the bones, simply grab the head-end of the spine and pull back. Voilà – no bones. And don’t be afraid of the skin – it is crunchy and yummy.
There you have it – a simple, delicious meal comprised of what was available. Of course, living on a lake where fresh trout is available doesn’t hurt.
I would like to sincerely thank my sister, the tremendous writer, chef, and person that she is, for allowing me to daub my own dining and drinking experience upon her virtual pages. Time is short, so make your days sweet with good food and wine. Let everything else follow accordingly.