JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Grilled trout with rosemary stuffing

Cooking with decent ingredients means that you don't want to waste them, however lowly they may seem to be. Something that has crept up on me is finding ways of using up every last crumb of the bread I bake. It's the sort of thrift I was brought up to, but which doesn't work if you're eating Mother's Pride.

At the fish counter yesterday, I was very aware of Ed Bruske's gentle admonishment:

I love monkfish. However, I've stopped buying it because it is listed as "avoid" by the Monterey Bay Aquarium's "Seafood Watch" program. At least in the Atlantic off the U.S. coast, monkfish (a bottom feeder that used to be thrown overboard as trash) has been overfished. Also, the means of catching it usually involves trawling, which seriously damages the ocean floor. I wonder how your British stocks are doing.

Well, this information turns out to be very hard to access. The Marine Conservation Society has just redesigned its website, but not enough to make it easy to find the information most people would want: a list of fish that's best to eat, another of endangered fish that should be avoided. It wasn't obvious, either, where they keep the search facility they've opted for instead (why not BOTH?); you need to have heard of their sister organisation FishOnline. The search facility is not entirely straightforward to use, and I had to track back to find out what the numbers meant (is a high number good? or bad?). And all the time, a disembodied voice kept saying, I'm Kate Humble and .... I HATE websites that noise at you without your say-so. It shouldn't take an hour to find this information, and I STILL don't have any clear idea about any other species than monkfish (don't eat it).

No longer on auto-pilot, I found three fat brown trout, speckled just exactly as if they'd been caught in the burn that ran past the home field of my grandfather's Fife farm. (And, yes, I do know that there are problems with farmed fish, but you've got to start somewhere, and yesterday, I was saving the monkfish.) When I bought them, I thought I'd cook them in the Scots manner, dipped in egg and oatmeal. But then I started browsing the recipe books ...

I rejected Michael Smith's recipe (in his excellent Fine English Cookery) for trout and almonds; there was the faint reminder of dour restaurant meals taken on the last night of the school holidays before incarceration (that really is the right word) at my isolated Dorset convent boarding school. Instead, I chose grilled trout with herb stuffing from Ann and Franco Taruschio's Leaves from the Walnut Tree.

I've only recently acquired this seminal book, and this is the first thing I've cooked from it. The Taruschios ran The Walnut Tree at Llandewi Skirrid from 1963 to 2001; it was Elizabeth David's favourite British restaurant; Jan Morris says she would happily go there for a plate of scrambled eggs. The subtitle of their book tells you everything you need to know: Recipes of a Lifetime.

Here's Jan Morris's description of Franco Taruschio's cooking: With herbs from the garden behind the pub, fruits and vegetables from local growers, fish and meat from a supplier down the road, the victuals at The Walnut Tree are, like the restaurant itself, a fascinating blend of the worldly and the simple, the plain organic and the exquisitely invented. This way of cooking is exactly of the moment: the Taruschio's - like, say, Alice Waters - are trailblazers.

This stuffing is a very good example: it's similar to the sort of thing my grandmother might have made to stuff a trout, but she wouldn't have used chilli flakes (even though she was a daughter of the Raj, and knew all about curry). It can be put together in moments - but is only worth making with really good bread. And if you habitually keep or make really good bread, then you'll be on the lookout for recipes which use up the last crumbs. This is one of the best I've found.

Grilled trout with rosemary
for 3-4

3-4 prepared whole trout
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
4 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs
dried chilli flakes
a lemon
olive oil

Mix the herbs and breadcrumbs. Add a pinch of chilli flakes, the zest and juice of a lemon, four tablespoons of olive oil, and pepper. Use this to stuff the fish. Lay them on an oiled grillpan, lightly oil the fish, and sprinkle with Maldon salt. Cook for four minutes under a very hot grill, then turn, drizzle with oil and lightly salt, grill for 3-4 minutes.

Other things to do with old bread

Baked scallops
Anchovy toasts

Related links

The Slow Cook, Ed Bruske's blog


Nick said...

I've always heard that freshwater fish like trout or catfish can be farmed in an ecologically sound manner.

Joanna said...

Yes, I think you're right Nick, but I feel daunted by the thought of checking this out - not to mention short of the time required, considering how much of my morning was spent trying to get sustainability information on sea fish.

No wonder so many of us are still eating fish we shouldn't ...


Anonymous said...

Hi Joanna,

Some time ago I went to the MCS site and was able to compile a list (it wasn't very long)and was shocked to see how many species to avoid.

As to farmed fish.....I'm afraid I don't trust modern intensive farming. When I was a youngster we'd catch wild trout (only ever four to the pound size) and yet the ones you see on the fish counter are all uniform pound to pound and a half.Hmm.Also heard on Farming Today last Saturday that it takes 4kg of fresh fish to raise 1kg of farmed fish........
As far as I could tell the best you could do was opt for line caught mackeral in the English summer!(Though i did end up buying colley fillets (a version of pollack I think) from the freezer section at Waitrose and the box carried the MCS symbol.
Anyway what this ramble boils down to is how difficult it is to navigate ones way through these issues.Maybe Michael Pollan's guide is the best 'keep it local, eat vegetables and if your grandmother wouldn't recognise it as a food don't eat it'.

Joanna said...

Hi John, thanks for this - yes, I need to get to grips with the site and make a list - but it beats me why they don't put one there themselves. If it's because they're afraid we'll think all the others are fine, when clearly they aren't, well, they just need to say so. I really think that an easy-to-find list of the most endangered species would make people sit up and think.

Until Ed's reminder, I was relying on the integrity of Waitrose. Stupid of me, really. Although I am assuming that their monkfish comes from the safer fishing grounds, but even so, it's clear we shouldn't eat it at all.

And, yes, there's a lot of commonsense in Pollan, although some things to disagree with. I'm trying to sort them out in my mind before posting about it. But I live in Oxfordshire, as far from the sea as you can get in the British Isles, and I'd hate to be deprived of fish.

Rope-grown mussels are good - they clean the water around them. But my husband doesn't like them. Perhaps I should keep trying, he likes lentils these days, if I cook them carefully

As you say, all very difficult


David Hall said...

Keeping it simple with fish is always the best option. Nice to see you went for the sustainable option too. Great stuff, fish and herbs, mmm


Abitofafoodie said...

Great trout dish, Joanna. This sounds seriously good. I wish I had some tasty crumbs that needed using up!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Joanna I know that's a serious subject! You've written about it so well and injected just wonderful humor!
The fish sounds grand with the stuffing. Even as much bread as I've been baking, it seems to get eaten. I guess we're piggies here. And the neighbors get extra loaves

Anonymous said...

Getting decent information about which fish it is ethical to buy is seriously difficult (compared with other produce).

I find the marine stewardship council online list oddly more useful than looking out for their labels in store as the logo is often hidden away at the bottom of the packet. The list is relatively limited so I also like looking online because it makes it easier to plan a bit according to what is likely to be available

I like the fish online site you mention and though it is aimed at American consumers, some of the guidance on the eco-friendly seafood selector site is useful (e.g buy Alaskan rather than Atlantic salmon) and better presented than many of the other sites.

Anonymous said...

Go visit - it's very easy to use and you can have as little information or as much as you want. Fish are color coded and best choices have blue check marks.

And, no, farming trout is not sound. They eat fish-chow made by dredging the ocean, and there are pollution issues with the water.