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
3-4 prepared whole trout
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
4 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs
dried chilli flakes
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
The Slow Cook, Ed Bruske's blog