DISH: Pan-Fried Trout with Pecans
TYPE: Nostalgic, Experimental
MAIN INGREDIENT: Trout, Nuts
MENU: Warm White Bean and Arugula Salad; Fennel-Potato Puree
Since we started the blog, my mother, on occasion, has taken to shooting me an email with whatever foodie whim has occupied her thoughts on a given day. Earlier this year, it was an escarole-wrapped fish and rice dish that she wanted to run by me. After I said, “can’t help you with that one,” she served it to me weeks later with a delicious avgolomeno sauce. We both agreed that the recipe as a whole needed work, but the meal itself still had my mother’s signature style, and, to me, was absolutely delicious.
Though I don’t always try my hand at my mother’s dishes (the escarole rice being one), often times I am the one pleading for advice, asking how she prepared her striped bass once upon a time, or whether she had used preserved lemons in her quinoa or just regular lemon juice. More often than not, she has no recollection of recently making striped bass, or of ever putting preserved lemons in quinoa. And I am left to try and recreate the memory, putting myself in her kitchen shoes, and invoking the instincts she instilled in me during my childhood by letting me watch her stir, fry, and sauté while I chopped herbs on the sidelines.
The preparations I’ve most envied and tried to emulate are the ones that revolve around fish. So when she emailed me the other day, out of the blue, that I should cook more trout (“affordable and easy,” she said), I was all ears. Before I typed back and asked how she recommended I prepare it, there was the answer in my inbox:
Just get the butcher to take head and tail off, boned and butterflied, dry it off both sides with paper towels, get the butter or oil or combo pretty hot, lay fish flesh side down so it gets browned and crispy on the one side, then once it’s cooked through (so thin it only takes minutes), transfer to a plate flesh up, then fry up some nuts in the butter, add some lemon, pour over the fish, then chopped parsley for color. No time at all.
I recalled a similar email from a year back about cooking skate with caper brown butter, and with her advice, the fish turned out perfectly. Without hesitation, I planned Pan-Fried Trout with Pecans for my next meal. To round it out in my mother’s style, I made a quick sauté of arugula, one of her favorite leafy greens, with a little lemon juice, and some cannelloni beans for more protein. The fish was delicious, a product of the accurate (if a bit stream-of-consciousness) instructions, which for the purpose of my recipe, have been re-written in complete sentences.
Whenever I am home and eating my mother’s cooking, I am always happy when the plate I’m served is familiar, a product of all her old tricks. Not that I don’t love the occasional escarole leaf stuffed with rice, but I prefer it when she leaves the experimenting to me. Sometimes the new method she recommends requires more instruction than at others. But with or without an email as impetus, it feels natural to improvise with my mother in mind, using her techniques, practices, and tastes to create plates that seem familiar, experimental, and all at once new again in my kitchen.
From my kitchen, wishing my mother a happy birthday, to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Make friends with your fish monger and have him prepare the butterflied trout from the whole fish. The fish store will likely have fillets available in the case, but it is really more beautiful to serve the whole fish, head and tail removed, opened up and deboned. Make sure you buy rainbow or white trout–sea trout are much thicker, and a very different texture and preparation than the delicate fresh water variety.
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp chopped pecans
½ lemon, juiced
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Pat the filets dry with paper towels.
Coat a large skillet with a thin sheet of olive oil and melt 1 tablespoon of butter over high heat. Get the oil/butter nice and hot (you can flick some water into the pan and see if it sizzles). Add the trout flesh-side down, and fry until cooked through and lightly browned, about 2-4 minutes. Flip in the pan to skin-side down, and slide off the pan onto a plate. Season generously with salt and set aside. Repeat with the remaining piece of fish.
When the fish is fried, add the rest of the butter to the pan and melt. Stir in the nuts and cook until they are lightly toasted. Off the heat, ddd the lemon juice (careful this doesn’t spatter), swirl around the pan, and spoon over the fish. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve immediately with lemon wedges on the side.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp white vinegar
½ lemon, juiced
1 tsp sugar
1 15oz can cannelloni beans, drained and rinsed
1 bunch arugula leaves (or 5oz baby arugula)
In a medium skillet, heat the oil, shallot, and garlic until they begin to lightly fry. Whisk in the vinegar, lemon juice, and sugar. Toss the beans in the vinaigrette and allow to warm on a low flame. When the beans are heated through, remove from the heat and toss with the arugula. Season with salt, and serve immediately alongside the trout.