Crunch time

Entertaining: A crust of cornmeal coats fresh trout fillets.

July 18, 1999|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

My mother used cornmeal often when she cooked. She baked round loaves of corn bread as well as slim corn-bread sticks. She dusted egg-dipped eggplant strips and sliced okra with cornmeal before frying these vegetables. And, for the holidays, she always made corn bread dressing.

I follow her Southern tradition and find countless uses for cornmeal in my kitchen. Recently, I bought fresh rainbow trout and coated the fillets with cornmeal and flour before pan-frying them. The fish with their crispy, golden cornmeal crust were so appealing that I've decided to serve them again, this time for company.

I'm going to garnish the trout with a salad of watercress, sliced cucumbers and Belgian endive tossed in a toasted mustard seed dressing. The refreshing salad with its tangy mustard accents is a fine counterpoint to the hot, crunchy fillets. Corn on the cob and a plate of sliced tomatoes sprinkled with fresh chives will be my side dishes.

Cornmeal-Crusted Trout With Watercress-Cucumber Salad

Serves 6

SALAD:

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup oil

1 large or 2 small bunches watercress

1 cucumber

1 to 2 Belgian endives

TROUT:

2 to 2 1/4 pounds rainbow trout fillets

salt

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal

1/4 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 cup milk

oil for sauteing trout

6 lemon wedges

To prepare salad, place small, heavy skillet over medium heat, and when skillet is hot, reduce heat to low and add mustard seeds. Toast seeds by shaking skillet. They will darken and start to pop in about 5 minutes. When they start to pop, remove and cool. Place in small self-sealing bag and crush with rolling pin or meat pounder. Place in large nonreactive bowl.

Add vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper and oil to bowl and whisk well to combine. (Dressing can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Cover and leave at cool room temperature.)

Cut off and discard tough stems from watercress. Break watercress into sprigs. Rinse well and pat dry. Peel and halve cucumber lengthwise. Slice each half into thin crescents. Remove leaves from endive and cut lengthwise into 1/2 -inch-wide julienne strips. (These ingredients can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Place in plastic bags and refrigerate.)

When ready to cook, cut trout into serving-size pieces if trout are butterflied or extra large. Salt well. Place cornmeal, flour, 3/4 teaspoon salt and cayenne on large plate and stir to mix well. Place milk in small, shallow bowl. Dip fillets in milk, then in cornmeal mixture.

Place large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add enough oil to coat bottom generously. When hot, add enough fillets to fit comfortably in single layer. Cook, flesh side down, until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and cook 2 to 3 minutes more until fish is cooked through. Remove and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Continue until all the fish is cooked.

Toss salad and mound on large serving plate. Surround with trout and garnish with lemon wedges. Squeeze lemon juice over fillets before eating.

Pub Date: 07/18/99

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