Pan Fried Trout with Prosciutto, Crispy Sage and Pine Nuts

There is something special about trout that goes beyond just eating. They are one of only fish that have a whole culture built around them. They are a freshwater game fish, they are skittish and will jump at their own shadow. They only thrive in cold water and need lots of oxygen provided by a stiff current. When they feed they feed only on what is abundant at the moment. Wild trout make for difficult prey.

In the high altitude lakes of the Grand Tetons you are likely to catch cutthroats the size of your hand while watching the sunrise in, hands down, one of the most beautiful places in the world. When you get back to camp you cook them up for breakfast with pancakes and eggs.

On the other hand you might spend the afternoon in the Catskills on the banks of the Beaverkill reading Hemingway or Fitzgerald. Legendary fisherman like Lee Wulff and Lefty Kreh coming to mind as you are thinking about the evening fish and having high hopes for a Green Drake hatch. You might even doze off for an hour.

Then just as the evening hours begin you pull on your waders and out into the rushing stream you go. It doesn’t seem like hard work from the shore but standing in rushing water up to your midsection takes effort. You wrestle the current to get to the spot you want. You look down at the water to see if there are any bugs floating by that might give you an indication of what the fish are eating tonight. You light a cigar and smile.

You see the transparent wings of a pale evening dun float by. You reach into your fly box and pull out a number 20. The fly you saw go by didn’t seem any bigger. You tie the fly to the tippet. You drop the fly into the water and strip out some line.

You draw back the rod in a gentle sweep and the fly draws past your ear and then you rocket it forward aiming upstream of an eddie that lies just behind a big rock. You watch as the fly floats downstream, you gather excess line, and as it passes the eddie you hope you hear and see a strike as a rainbow trout breaks the surface grabbing your fly. If you had a good night and matched the hatch you will be in camp cooking up a couple of nice rainbows for supper but only after a nice Scotch.

Serves 2

2 trout, boneless 12 to 16 oz.

4 pieces prosciutto, thinly sliced

a handful of sage leaves

1/4 cup grape seed oil

1 tablespoon of butter

1/4 cup pine nuts

kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper

cornmeal for dredging

1. Season the inside of the trout with salt and pepper. Carefully lay out two pieces of prosciutto letting the long side overlap by 1/4 inch. Lay a trout across the short sides of the prosciutto and wrap it in the prosciutto.

2. Heat a 14 inch skillet over medium high heat. Dredge the trout in cornmeal and shake off any excess. Add the oil to the pan. Sprinkle in the half of the sage leaves and let them deep fry. when they have crisped remove them from the pan.

3. Gently lay the trout into the pan, reduce the heat to medium and cook until the pancetta is crisp and caramelized, about 5 minutes. Gently turn the fish cooking the other side. It will take about ten minutes total for the fish to cook through so be patient and adjust the heat as necessary.

4. When the fish are done remove them to their plates. Drain the oil and put the pan back on the heat. Add the butter, the pine nuts and the remaining sage leaves. When the nuts have toasted spoon some of the pine nut sage butter over the top of the fish. Serve

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Teddy Roosevelt Fished Here

My nephew and I amble slowly up to the creek bank. It’s early enough that the cold morning air causes a light fog to rise off the warm, black water, but does nothing to lift the low-lying cover fogging my brain. I yawn. I wish I’d had that second cup of coffee.

It’s hard to believe Teddy Roosevelt ever came here to fish, here at this nothing stream that runs along the backside of my property. As the story has it, an Indiana politician brought him here for no more than an hour or two. They got off the campaign train, took a break, and fished. But, of all places, why here?

Soon enough the morning sun awakens and colors the tips of the trees on the south bank a glowing yellow, as if someone turned on the kitchen lights. I sit down on a rock, one of those big ones, gray and smooth, jutting out from the edge of the bank. I look across a pool of still water, not studying or thinking, just staring, then I slip one leg into my waders, making sure to get my leg inside the suspenders. In goes the other leg and up and over my shoulders come the suspenders.

My nephew, bare-legged and anxious, has already broken the water and the ripples disrupt the deep blue reflection of the cloudless sky. He strips fly line off the reel and the sound of the drag gears zipping backwards hangs in the air like a fiddle solo in a gospel song on Sunday. A few small mayflies lift off the surface of the water, fluttering haphazardly to freedom.

I’ve long heard that Cicero Creek is a world-class smallmouth bass river, but it’s never been enough to motivate me. I’ve lived on the creek for eight years now and not once fished. I gave up my obsession with fly fishing when I left New York. I always fly fished for trout. Trout seem noble. I have two young daughters who take up my time now, and happily so. Besides, when you ask anyone if they eat the fish, they always say no, the river is polluted.

I watch my nephew back cast and hear the delayed whistle of the fly line as it whips forward. The tippet rolls out and drops the fly perfectly into the water on the upriver side of a sunken log with a forked branch sticking out.

It’s obvious by the force and violence with which the smallmouth bass breaks the surface that it is hungry. The sound grabs my attention, the fish grabs the fly, and Will’s rod doubles down.

It’s a beautiful smallmouth, a glistening seaweed-green on its back with a pearl-white belly. I feel a little of the old adrenaline coursing. It’s way more invigorating than that second cup of coffee would have been.

It suddenly dawns on me that something very similar probably happened, nearly a hundred years ago, maybe right in this spot, at this hole that’s holding some really big fish. I nod my head, understanding, and the vision is clear.

The train, an old wood-fired locomotive, leaving a campaign stop in Indianapolis and now headed to Chicago, stops in the small town nearby. Roosevelt and a few other men get off the train at the small station, and a young kid who knows the stream like the back of his hand, like my nephew does, is waiting to take them by carriage the short distance to this unremarkable little creek.

When they arrive creekside, the elder statesmen look at each other, shrug, and wonder what, if anything, they will catch. Maybe they even wonder why they got off the train, smiling at each other, knowing this kid has no idea of the amazing fishing they’ve done and the beautiful, rushing rivers they’ve seen.

The farmboy, kindly urged on by Roosevelt, goes first, casting under the branch line that hangs out over the water and up close to the embankment. The same thing that happened this morning happens then: BAM! A big smallmouth bass takes the hook and runs the line upstream. Now the two statesmen are really smiling, grateful for this moment of relief from their busy schedule, and they begin to fish.

It’s a banner day; they’re hooking them left and right, talking and fishing without a thought of politics or business. Their guide, the kid, can’t get the fish off the hooks quickly enough. He releases most of them, but some are the right size, perfect for eating, and he puts these on a stringer that is quickly getting full.

The flurry of activity only lasts an hour or two, the same length of time that all good fishing lasts. Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of these United States, and company pack up and head back to the Arcadia station.

My nephew and I are doing the same, heading to the car.

I ask, “You ever eat any of the fish you catch out of here?”

He replies, “No, the river’s polluted.”

Click here for the recipe:  Pan Fried Red Snapper with Tarragon Tartar Sauce

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Dover Sole with Herb Oil and Zucchini

The delicate flavor of white fleshed fish, for me, is best when cooked simply.  In fact the most important thing is seasoning the fish properly and making sure not to overcook it, which is a good reason to salt it an hour before you want to eat and why it makes sense to finish cooking or re-warming the fish in the oven.

This dish is a great recipe for entertaining because you can brown the fish without cooking it completely and then when you are ready, you can finish it up in minutes in the oven.  I also find it is a great dish for date night at home or a special occasion dinner for two, such as an anniversary.

Finally, the fish you use is up to you.  I love Dover sole but it is hard to find, you are going to have to skin it, and then bone it too.  Flounder is an excellent alternative as is halibut.

Serves 2

1 large whole Dover Sole, skinned, or other flat fish

5 fresh basil leaves

1 sprig of thyme or savory

extra virgin olive oil, plus more for cooking the fish

3 baby multi colored carrots

1 or 2 zucchini depending on their size

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper

1. Heat the oven to 350˚ F. Salt and pepper the fish on both sides.

2. Place the herbs into a mortar. Using the pestle grind and bruise the herbs into a coarse paste. Add a pinch of salt and a grind of fresh ground pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and mix to combine. Set the oil aside.

3. Heat the olive oil in a skillet(non-stick if you are more comfortable with it) large enough to hold the fish easily and comfortably. When the oil is very hot but not smoking add the fish. Brown the fish on both sides it doesn’t matter if it is cooked through or not, then remove it to an oven proof tray.

4. Clean out the skillet and place it back onto the stove. Slide the fish, and two oven proof plates, into the oven to finish cooking or warming it. Add a glug or two of oil to the saute pan, add the crushed clove of garlic then add and sear the zucchini. Season it with salt and pepper then turn it and do the same to the other side.

5. Plate the fish, put the zucchini on the plate attractively and using a mandolin or by slicing the carrots thin, garnish with the carrots. Drizzle some herb oil over the fish filets.

6. Serve.