Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Potted Smoked Trout
I have an almost Pavlovian response to the sight of a ramekin. It's not the sweet dishes commonly served in ramekins--pots de creme, creme caramel, etc.--that perk up my salivary glands. Rather it's the savory, rich, robustly flavored concoctions like rillettes of pork or duck, or fromage fort, that get my mouth watering. They transport me straight to the hour of the apéritif, as that enticing little pot is presented flanked with slices of crusty baguette, sweet butter, and of course there's a glass of wine in the picture--mine is a Loire valley white in this fantasy, a muscadet or sancerre.
I'll stick with a crisp French white to accompany this recipe, even though its inspiration comes from across the Channel, British potted shrimps, as seen on one of Rick Stein's "cookery programs" on the BBC. Here at the geographical heart of North America, we're a bit distant from traditional shrimp fishing grounds. It is on my to-do list to get after some local crayfish this summer, but in the meantime I decided to try peeling a couple of small smoked brown trout, which I combined with melted butter, finely chopped shallots, chives, and tarragon.
This made the basis of a simple after-the-market Bide-A-Wee supper, along with market new potatoes and fat Wisconsin asparagus boiled and laced with lemon-chive butter, fresh cheese curds, fresh bread, and a bottle of pouilly-fumé. It was a sultry evening, perfect for a light, flavorful meal like this. Those first new potatoes of the year, no bigger than a ping pong ball, nearly stole the show. But in the end I'd have to give the laurels to the potted trout, rich and smoky, spiked with the tang of the shallots, punched up with a nice hit of tarragon. Spread on bread grilled over the coals, it was utterly satisfying.
If you're not inclined to catch your own brown trout and smoke your own, fear not. You can use the quality smoked rainbow trout from Star Prairie or Bullfrog Fish Farm (speaking to my fellow Minne'sconsinites, of course; the far-flung amongst you, you're on your own...). Smoked whitefish would be good this way, too, I imagine. Herring or lake trout might be a bit too rich for all the butter--then again, too much of a good thing might be just enough...!
I had two small brown trout of about nine inches. Skinned and carefully deboned, they gave me five ounces of meat, and that filled two half-cup ramekins exactly. The farmed rainbow trout will be bigger; one fish should easily provide that five ounces of cleaned fish.
Butter is a main component of this dish, and I think Hope Creamery butter is the best around. It must be unsalted, because the smoked trout will also be quite salty. For this reason I don't add any additional salt, but you can taste your trout mash before packing it into the ramekins to see if it needs salt.
Potted Smoked Trout
5 oz (150 grams) smoked trout, skinned and deboned
3 ounces (6 Tbsp) unsalted butter
1 small shallot very finely chopped, about 1 Tbsp
2 sprigs tarragon, chopped fine
1 Tbsp chopped chives
ground black pepper, optional
salt if needed (see above)
Place the butter and shallots in a small saucepan and melt the butter over low heat.
In a mixing bowl, reduce the smoked trout to very small flakes using either your hands or a couple of forks. Add the herbs, then spoon in 2/3 of the butter. Scoop down to the bottom of the melted butter to get most of the shallots into the mixture. Stir vigorously for about a minute so it all comes together a la rillettes. Pack the mixture into two ramekins. Pour the remaining butter over the top, creating a butter seal.
Refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight. Bring out of the fridge an hour or two before serving. Serve with fresh baguette slices or grilled bread, a fresh garden salad, simply blanched asparagus and/or new potatoes tossed in butter, some fresh snap peas, radishes, that sort of thing.
This could serve as the basis for a wonderful tartine breakfast, as well as a warm night simple supper or elegant lunch. Luncheon, is a word my mom would use; ladies who lunch don't actually go to lunch, they go to luncheons....
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw