“The problem with kids today…” Ralph cast his line into the smooth lake water and then creaked back onto his folding plastic chair to worm my hook. I think it was the seventeenth time he’d started a sentence with that phrase and I’d stopped listening to the details. I would beep, snort, and hum to give him the impression that I was learning from his diatribe, but I was in narcoleptic survival mode. I was 8 and had been shipped off to Wisconsin for a few weeks with my step grandmother Lora and step-step grandfather Ralph. This was “necessary grandparent bonding” according to my parents, though I kept wondering what I was being punished for. The average day consisted of flower and bird identifying hikes, long discussions about loom weaving, and dinners featuring overcooked chicken breasts and Lora’s famous Uncle Ben’s Wild Rice Medley.
When the idea of going fishing on a nearby lake popped up, I leapt at the chance. I think Ralph was excited too, though excitement was not a feeling he easily conveyed. I imagine he thought on that great lake he could finally win me over with his master fishing prowess.
Little did I know, I would become the Patty Hearst of pontoon boats- trapped on the water for hours listening to the old man monologue about the troubles with society. Ralph had been the head of the Parole Board for the State of Wisconsin and was overflowing with negative opinions about the “youth of today”. Even now, I feel my eyelids becoming heavy thinking about how much he liked the sound of his own voice.
That hot summer day, I stared deep into the water. I saw a fish swim up and nibble on the end of my line. I talked to him in my head, trying to sooth the boredom/ anger/ frustration of my floating lecture situation.
Me: I’m so bored. What’s life like down there?
Trout: It’s pretty great. We just play and hang out. I took a swim the other day in the deep end of the lake and my mom got mad but I saw an underground waterfall and some kelp and a stickleback fish.
Me: That sounds cool.
Trout: I wish your grandfather would shut up.
Me: Me too.
I shook my fishing pole so that my new friends would realize it was a trap. I felt so bad that we were going to kill and eat them. They had been much more entertaining than any of my human companions that week.
And so began (or maybe continued) my issues with fish ingesting. I don’t actually ever remember enjoying a piece of fish, freshly killed or not. They always seemed too smelly and slimy.
“I know why you don’t like fish”, my stepmother grins and leans back in her chair like a poker player holding a royal flush. She has a theory that I have issues with food that is squishy because that texture is similar to baby food and my parents were divorcing when I was baby-food age. I guess it’s a possibility, though I’ve run the theory by a few therapists who say that it’s pretty armchair. Also, properly cooked fish isn’t slimy or squishy.
I do have issues with guacamole though.
But here’s the thing, I’m a chef and I successfully cook fish for clients all the time. The other thing is that I’m in my 40’s now and I’m constantly learning that my old stubborn insistences aren’t as rewarding as a new eager flexibility. When my clients over the weekend ordered a trout dish that I hadn’t cooked in a few years, I decided to give it a practice run the night before. And you know what I learned? It was fantastic. Trout is also quick, cheap, and very impressive. Maybe I’m a fish eater after all.
Ralph, this one’s for you…
- 1 cups pecans, ground or chopped fine
- 1 cup panko
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 large (12- to 14-ounce) trout, filleted, skin left intact (4 pieces)
- 2 large egg whites, beaten to blend
- 1 cup fresh orange juice
- 3/4 cup dry wine
- 2/3 cup chopped shallots
- 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
- 8 fresh parsley stalks
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 large fresh thyme sprig
- 2 fresh rosemary sprigs
- 1/8 cup whipping cream
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 carrot, peeled, cut into matchstick-size strips
- 1 leek, cleaned and cut into strips
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Chopped fresh rosemary
- Chopped fresh parsley
Combine pecans and panko on a plate. Place flour on another plate. Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper. Dip 1 fillet into flour to coat; shake off excess. Using pastry brush, brush flesh side with egg whites. Place fillet, egg white side down, onto the pecan/ panko mix; press to coat with nuts. Transfer to waxed paper-lined baking sheet, pecan side down. Repeat with remaining 3 fillets; chill.
Combine first 7 ingredients in medium saucepan. Boil 10 minutes; add rosemary. Boil until liquid is reduced to 1/2 cup, about 10 minutes. Strain sauce into another medium saucepan, pressing on solids in sieve. Add cream; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Whisk in butter 1 piece at a time (do not boil). Season with salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature up to 2 hours.
Melt 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Place 2 fillets, pecan side down, into skillet. Cook until crust is golden and crisp, about 2 minutes. Using spatula, turn fillets over. Cook until just opaque in center, about 2 minutes. Transfer to plate. Repeat with remaining butter, oil and fish.
Toss carrots and leeks into pan and sauté for 1 minute. Season gently and then add half the sauce into pan. Saute for two minutes.
Place fish onto serving plates, top with carrot and leek mixture. Drizzle extra sauce over fish, then sprinkle with rosemary and parsley.