Cooks make no bones about it, they're hooked on trout

July 20, 1994|By Mike Wyatt | Mike Wyatt,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

A glint of silver and a flash of fractured light -- blue, green and red -- mark the spot where a moment before a fish had been. In the dappled fast-water world of mountain streams, the rainbow trout reigns supreme. It is a fish that stirs the imaginations of fishermen and cooks alike.

Named for the "rainbow" band that runs the length of its olive-green skin, the rainbow trout is America's most popular sport fish. Wild trout are prized by fly fishermen for their fierce spirit and wily nature (and "catch and release" is the honored rule.) Plentiful fish from hatchery-stocked lakes and streams are the mainstay of many a family fishing trip -- and fish fry. Those with a taste for catching trout without a hook can find farmed fish at almost any seafood counter.

The culinary appeal of rainbow trout is simple: The flesh is mild and tender, and the bones are few and easy to remove. The small, consistent size of farmed rainbows makes offering uniform portions a breeze. Whole or in fillets, this fish holds up well to a wide variety of recipes and techniques. It can be baked, boiled, poached, grilled, steamed, pan-fried -- about the only preparation not well suited to the trout is stir-frying, because quick stirring over high heat breaks up the flesh.

Farm-raising trout allows producers to easily control their growth and provide fish that are consistently sized. Generally weighing 3/4 to 1 pound each, these trout offer a perfect single-serving size.

Farmed fish have a somewhat milder flavor than wild trout. They also have a consistent flavor from fish to fish and season to season, whereas wild trout, depending on where they are from and what they've been eating, can have varying degrees of flavor intensity. Flesh color varies as well, from creamy white in farmed rainbows to a deep salmon-pink in some wild fish.

Cooked whole, possibly with a stuffing, the fish makes a generous serving. Some find eating a whole fish needlessly intimidating. It's easy. Simply eat the top fillet of the fish down to the backbone, then lift off and discard the whole backbone with ribs, tail and head (if still attached). The remaining fillet sits whole on your plate, ready for carefree eating.

Trout fillets will weight 4 to 6 ounces each, a perfect size for pan-frying or broiling. (If your seafood market has only whole trout, ask them to fillet it for you.) The easiest way to cook fillets is also one of the best. Simply coat the fillets in flour seasoned with salt and pepper, then pan-fry to a golden brown.

To make a quick sauce, transfer the cooked trout fillets to a plate and cover to keep warm. Then add a little white wine or lemon juice to the pan, with a nut of butter if you like, along with chopped fresh herbs, capers, thinly sliced mushrooms -- whatever you like -- and cook just to heat, then spoon over the trout. For hearty appetites, you might serve two fillet portions, or accompany one fillet with plenty of sauteed or steamed vegetables alongside.

Because of its mild flavor, trout benefits from assertive companion ingredients, such as capers, dill, green or red peppers, ginger, lemon and so on. Coating the fish in corn meal instead of flour before pan-frying creates an incomparable nutty, crunchy coating for this delicate fish. Use your imagination. Add some of your favorite ingredients and you can make your own culinary creations with trout.

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Flavors from the Mediterranean coast -- olive oil, peppers, cumin and garlic -- are a delightful foil for the delicate flesh of trout. If you like, you can replace the trio of peppers with a single large sweet red, green or yellow pepper.

Three-Pepper Trout

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 medium sweet yellow pepper, cored and sliced

1/2 medium sweet red pepper, cored and sliced

1/2 medium green pepper, cored and sliced

1 teaspoon cumin seeds or 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

-- ground cloves

salt, pepper

4 large trout fillets (about 1 1/2 pounds total)

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large skillet. Add garlic and saute until soft and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add peppers and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in cumin, coriander, cloves and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to bowl and set aside.

Add remaining tablespoon olive oil to pan and fry fillets, skin-side down, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and spoon pepper mixture over them. Cover pan and cook over medium-low heat until trout are opaque through thickest part, 6 to 8 minutes more. Transfer trout and pepper garnish to warmed dinner plates and serve.

Calories per serving 274. Total fat 13 g. Saturated fat 2 g. %J Cholesterol 96 mg. Sodium 48 mg. Carbohydrates 3 g. Protein 36 g. Omega-3 .9 g.

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The thin skin of trout is not only edible, but also a tasty contrast the tender flesh. Here the skin cooks to delicate crispiness in a one-sided cooking method. A nonstick pan makes frying tidy, but a standard skillet can also be used.

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