The promise of autumn finally arrived with a bit of chill in the air this morning. It makes me think of wool sweaters and chowder; so I dusted off this old recipe, ripe for resurrection.
Trout is probably one of the most common fresh-water fish to be piled on an ice pallet in the grocery store, and frankly, it’s usually pretty shitty. They are largely bred in murky, sinister looking ponds, and as a result, they tend to taste murky and sinister. This is not to say that all trout is bad. Closed, fresh-water aquaculture is actually a much more sustainable enterprise than the salmon farms around the coast—there is some promise to farmed trout in principle. If you want to cook with trout, it’s best to poke around and find small, cleanly operated, sustainable operations that are local to you. Sounds like too much homework? It is. But a quicker way is to find the trout that is the most expensive and work you’re way from there. It’s not always the best approach because every industry has price gouging assholes who pass off shit for gold, even trout fisheries, so it also wouldn’t hurt to talk to a fish monger. I would avoid grocery store fish counters. I once had the pharmacist attempt to scale a sea bass for me because they were understaffed that day. It was a small tragedy that unfolded before my eyes. Suffice to say, that sea bass died in vain.
When I buy fish, I prefer to buy it whole. This gives your more stuff to work with. You get a head for starters. I literally mean a ‘head’. The fishes cheeks are tasty and I often grill the whole animal to make sure I get that delicacy. However, another thing you can do with a whole trout is to turn it into two dishes. If you are an astute filleter of fish, than feel free to do this yourself. If not, please avoid the pour knife skills of a pharmacist and get a bonafide fish monger to do it. What you want is the trout to be scaled, gutted and the two fillets separated from the body. Then you take it all home, everything that is except for the guts and the scales (if you can figure out a use for those things besides fertiliser, I’d love to hear it). One of the fillets you can simply fry up and enjoy. The other fillet will be destined for chowder.
1 small(about 200g)rainbow trout fillet, skinned and pin bones removed and chopped into bit size chunks
Trout cure (1 tsb salt, 2 tbs sugar, dried dill)
3 large russet (or other floury) potatoes, peeled and chopped into a medium dice
1 large onion (or 2 small), peeled and diced finely
1 litre of trout stock (fresh bay, fresh thyme, half a cooking onion – see note below)
50 ml of heavy cream
125 ml of milk
50 ml of Noilly Prat or other white vermouth
2 tbs of all purpose flour
2 tbs of butter
1 tsp of Dijon Mustard
A bunch of fresh dill
Salt and ground white pepper
Trout stock: Take the remains of the trout after the fillets have been removed and drop them into 1200 ml of water in a sauce pan along with a torn bay leaf, half a cooking onion (skin left on), a sprig of two of fresh thyme, a few whole peppercorns and a good pinch of salt. Let this simmer for about 30 minutes, then strain. Can be done ahead of time and refrigerated.
Prepare your trout: In a small bowl mix about one table spoon of salt with 2 table spoons of sugar and a good pinch of dry dill. Mix it will, then sprinkle this over the trout pieces so that each piece is well coated. Allow the fish to cure for 20 minutes. Then wash all the cure off the fish and dry thoroughly. Store on some kitchen towels in the fridge to allow them to dry off for another 30 minutes or so. This curing process produces a thin protective veneer around the flesh—called a pelicule in French cooking terminology—it guarantees that the fish will hold its structural integrity in the soup and will be luscious and moist (and preseasoned).
Get your trout stock on a burner and bring it up to an enthusiastic simmer. Then get the potatoes into the stock to cook. Cover and let simmer. In the meantime, get a large skillet on the hob and get half of the butter going in it. then get your onions in and on a low-to-medium heat, very gently cook down these onions so that they are soft, translucent, but not taking on much colour (about 10-12 minutes). Deglaze the pan with the vermouth and reduce it down until it is almost gone. Then add the second half of the butter in with the onions and get the heat up a bit. Once the butter starts to foam, drop in your flour and start incorporating it so that you get an onion-y roux forming. Cook this for a bit so that the raw flour taste is gone and then pour in the milk and turn the heat up so that you’re getting a good bubble, then add the mustard. Start mixing the heck out of this so that the milk doesn’t scorch and it will start to thicken up very quickly. Then get a ladle-full of your trout stock and get it into the onion mix to thin it out a bit and temper it. Then pour the entire contents of the onion pan into the pot with the stock and the potatoes (which by now will probably be nice and tender – if they are not, take the onions of the heat and wait until the potatoes are fork tender before adding). Once everything is incorporated into a single pot, bring it up to solid boil and allow the thickening to continue and the soup to reduce somewhat, stirring gently and regularly. This will take about 7 or 8 minutes. Then take an immersion blender and give the soup three or four very quick pulses with the blender, but don’t over do it. You want to retain some of the chunks of the potato, but you also want some of the potatoes to break down and thicken the broth up further. Once you like the consistency of the soup, dial back the heat to bare simmer and then drop in the trout. It will only need about five minutes to cook. Check occasionally to see if it is opaque and firmish to the touch, but for heaven’s sake don’t over cook it! This soup will require a thorough seasoning adjustment based on how much salt you put in the trout stock, of course to your taste. Along with salt, add your white pepper. I think it lends a certain unique flavour to this soup. A pinch or two will do (again adjust to your taste). Finally, add in a tbs or so of chopped fresh dill and pour in the heavy cream. Make sure everything is blended nicely, but be gentle when stirring, once cooked, the trout will be delicate.
To serve, ladle into bowls and drizzle with additional cream and top with fresh dill sprigs.