Trout, the Last Bastion Of American Patriotism.. KEYWORDS: trout recipe thanksgiving symbol american patriotism flavor of trout species
Each year, around Thanksgiving, radio and newspaper commentators remind us of the fact that Benjamin Franklin originally proposed the turkey as our country’s national symbol. Franklin held – the commentators remind us – that the wily, quick-witted wild turkey was more symbolic of the American character than was the fish-stealing, nest-fouling bald eagle.
Unfortunately, the tough, smart turkey that Franklin admired so much has deteriorated as a role-model over the past 250 years or so. The domestic turkey that we are familiar with today is a pretty representative symbol of many of our national traits – it is over-weight, over-sexed and dumb as a post – but not the ones that we’d particularly like to advertise. What we really need is a different animal symbol – one that shows us off in a slightly better light. What about – hold onto your hats, now – the rainbow trout? Think about it – what North American animal is more like us? The trout is flashy, aggressive and full of life. He is beautiful. He’s not all that bright, but has a tremendous fighting spirit. His heart is bigger than his brain. Isn’t that what being an American is all about? (Of course, the Europeans would have trouble with the trout symbol. You can just imagine what the French would have to say – “Yes, yes,” they’d sniff. “All that is true, but unlike an American, a trout has taste.”)
All of this is a round-about way of making a simple suggestion – why not eat some trout?
Oh, there will be objections – there always are: “My kids won’t eat it”, “I don’t like trout – all those little bones annoy me” and “I just can’t cook a trout that’s laying there in the pan, looking up at me; I feel too guilty.” But remember, this is a potentially new national symbol that we’re talking about here. Don’t be sidetracked by petty distractions. Let’s look at the objections one by one:
1) “My kids won’t eat it” – You’re right. They won’t. So don’t cook it for them. A beautifully prepared trout is undeniably an adult food. Make it for yourSELF. Some evening soon, give the children frozen dinners or take-out and make an adult dinner for the grown-ups, complete with the sorts of things that you would really like, but never make because of the complaints from the other end of the table – asparagus, wild rice, fire- roasted vegetables and a really seedy desert, like fresh raspberries. And, of course, trout.
2) “It makes me guilty” – Get over it. 3) The “bones” issue – There are two fairly simple ways to deal with bones in small, fresh- water fish, says Bryan Burroughs of the New Hampshire Fish & Game Fisheries Department. The first is to prepare only very small fish. “Personally,” he says, “If I’m frying a trout, I like the smaller ones, because you can eat the skin and the bones cook out of them. It makes for a very delicate and delicious meal.” If you are preparing a larger fish – 8 inches or longer – the secret to dealing with the bones, he says, is to become more familiar with the way the fish’s body is put together.
“A trout has 2 major muscle groups ,” Burroughs says, “- the thicker, Epaxial Muscles along the back, and the thinner Hypaxial Muscles that run along the belly. When you cook the trout, in most cases the bones are going to separate themselves from the flesh. When you start to eat it, look for the 2 muscle groups – there will be a groove or crevice where they meet. Put your fork in right there and you can pull the meat of the fish right off the bones.”
According to Burroughs, there is a difference in the taste between the little trout and the larger ones. “Salmonids like trout start out their lives eating mainly aquatic insects. Once they start reaching a larger size, they begin eating other fish.
We call them ‘piciverous’ at that point. When they get to that size, the meat gets darker and takes on a wilder, more distinctive taste. The change in flavor must be affected by the change of diet, but I don’t think there’s ever been a study done on the relationship.”
Burroughs points out that each species of trout has its own distinctive flavor. “There is a general consensus out there, that brook trout are the best tasting,” he says. “Lake trout tend to be a bit oilier. I try to tell people not to eat them so much, though that’s more from a conservation point of view – they restock themselves naturally and we like to keep the populations as high as possible. The brown and rainbow trouts have a slightly different texture and, I think, a slightly milder taste.”
There used to be a distinct difference in taste between commercially raised trout and their wild cousins. In recent years though, that difference has diminished significantly, according to Theresa Ward, a Fish Culturist at the Milford Hatchery in Milford New Hampshire.
“There really haven’t been any formal studies done,” she says, “but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence from fishermen that the wild trout had firmer flesh, were redder in color and were tastier than the ones we raised here. So over the past few years, we’ve been feeding the fish a pigmented feed that includes a higher proportion of ‘fishy solids’ and it’s becoming more and more difficult to tell the difference.”
Norman Levitz, Executive Chef at the Putney Inn says that fresh, local trout is a seasonal favorite with his diners. “One of the special things about it is that it is local,” he says. “It’s native to the rivers around here. It’s important to us to use locally fresh ingredients whenever possible. Trout has a wild, outdoors flavor that a lot of game fish are missing. It’s not over-fished like a lot of the more commonly prepared fish, so it represents a good value.”
He says that the best trout is available only occasionally, so it makes for a special treat when he can get his hands on it.
All three experts have strong opinions on how trout should be prepared. Levitz says that he prefers to pan-sauté it. “I like to prepare it with brown butter and hazelnuts,” he says, “or picatta-style with lemon and capers.” Burroughs is a big fan of smoking fresh trout. “I use what’s called a ‘hot water smoking technique’,” he says.
“I like to use hickory, though mesquite is really popular and a lot of people say to use apple wood. Smoking the fish changes the texture of the fish and gives it a tremendous flavor.” Ward is of another opinion. “I don’t go out of my way to eat trout,” she says. “When you work with them all day, all the time, they become much less appetizing.”
Her attitude is certainly understandable, but it doesn’t seem very patriotic.
Here are 3 trout recipes that will be the hit of your next adult dinner party: