If you watch Spanish television or read Spanish newspapers and magazines, from time to time you will see adverts aimed at increasing the use of blue fish. These campaigns usually involve FROM, a government-backed group that promotes the sale of all kinds of blue fish.
Why Blue Fish?
These species, which take in commonplace ones such as sardines and mackerel as well the up-market kind such as salmon and sole, are most plentiful and some of them are much cheaper than white fish. But even so, Spaniards aren’t eating enough of them. The very fact that blue fish is netted in huge amounts and is most economically priced means that some of it is associated with poverty food. Many people think that those who buy blue fish do so because they can’t afford the dearer white specimens. Hundreds of thousands of housewives shun blue fish for that reason.
Thus the need for these campaigns to make us realise that blue fish is such good value for money we should be eating it two or three times a week. And it’s not just the household economy that’s involved: blue fish is rich in omega-3 oils that can prevent a wide range of illnesses, including heart disease.
The FROM blue fish campaigns in the old days included the distribution of booklets of recipes, sometimes based on only two fish, such as sardines and mackerel. At other times the booklets went slightly up-market and included recipes for trout and salmon. The recipe booklets were always simple little affairs: in black and white, no illustrations, no designer layout and as many recipes as possible crammed into each page. They were obviously working on a very low budget.
But these campaigns now make use of information technology and instead of booklets without illustrations we can now download recipes with pictures in full colour. The recipes have also gone right up-market: instead of the simple home-cooking kind of yesteryear, recent efforts have included 10 trout recipes by five promising young Spanish cooks.
There’s nothing simple about these recipes. They are devised by teams of cooks in well-appointed modern kitchens and have great visual impact. They are also laborious and difficult to reproduce. The kind of recipes that busy housewives never attempt.
Yet Spanish housewives buy lots of trout. It’s farmed, of course, and you’ll find it in every supermarket with a fresh fish counter.
The great French gastronome Grimond de la Reynière called trout the ‘partridge of the river’, and those caught in the mountain streams of Navarra are (or were) epicurean delights. Farmed trout are gastronomically inferior to the river and sea specimens but they have certain advantages: they make good eating, they are plentiful and, most important nowadays, they are an economical buy. Last week Mercadona was selling rainbow trout at €6.50 a kilo.
The trout at most supermarkets is sold gutted but with the head intact and some also offer them headless and opened out butterfly style, and ready to flour and pop into a frying pan with a little butter.
As I always say when writing about fish, all specimens are best when cooked in the simplest of ways. Good fish doesn’t need elaborate recipes and complicated sauces. A good way of doing trout is to take the butterflied fish, coat it with flour and then gently sauté it in a mixture of butter and olive oil, or only butter. Most of us are inclined to overcook fish, so for perfect results you must cook these butterflied trout for a short time.
Do them flesh side down for one minute over a moderate heat. Increase the heat to high, turn the fish and sauté for another 90 seconds. The extra time and the higher heat will make the skin slightly crisp…which is exactly what you want. Especially if, like myself, you enjoy eating it and getting an extra shot of omega-3.
An even better way of getting really juicy results is to take a gutted and headless trout, but with the spinal bone intact, coat it in flour and sauté it over a high heat for no more than 90 seconds on each side. Transfer the trout to a very hot serving plate and open it out by extracting the spinal bone. The flesh will be moist and flavourful. If it were too underdone, smear the surface with butter and put it under the grill to finish it off.
Bacon and ham are a delicious match for trout, which often seems strange to those who never associate fish and meat on the same plate. Although I am very much in favour of always doing fish as simply as possible, the use of bacon or ham with trout is delicious and it works beautifully every time.
Dishes in which bacon or ham is cooked with trout can be found in cuisines a different as those of Wales and Spain. The Welsh have a dish called brithyll a chig moch — trout wrapped in back bacon and baked in then oven.
Buy plump trout, gutted but with the head intact. Season the cavity to taste but without adding any salt as the bacon should contribute more than enough. If using streaky bacon, trim off any rind.
You will need three slices of back bacon (always available at Mercadona) to wrap round the bacon from just below the head to above the tail. Keep the loose ends of the bacon on the underside so they will stay in position as the bacon shrinks on cooking.Place the trout in a suitable ovenproof dish and bake at 200C for 13-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Ideally, the edges of the bacon should become slightly crisp — but don’t overcook just to achieve this effect.
You can also crisp it up with a kitchen blow lamp if you have one. And if you don’t have one but cook frequently, I recommend you invest in one. They are most useful and they sell for as little as €15.
Navarra is the place for fresh trout dishes and one of it most famous recipes is ‘trucha a la navarra’, which the trout are cooked with Iberian cured ham.
For this dish you will need some tocino, chunks of cured pork fat on sale at all supermarket charcuterie counters. Cut the tocino into strips and dice very small. Sauté gently in a frying pan until the tocino releases all of its fat and becomes golden and crisp. The crunchy diced tocino can be added to a salad for a nice contrast of textures and taste.
Put slice of Iberian cured ham (cut at 0.5 on the slicing machine) into the cavity of each trout and secure the opening with a couple of cocktail sticks. Coat the trout with flour and sauté in the bacon fat until they take on a deep golden colour and are cooked through — about 2-3 minutes on each side.
In a separate pan, fry four slices of Iberian cured ham for 30 seconds on each side. This time ham is cut at exactly number 1 on the slicing machine.
Transfer the trout to serving dish and put a slice of ham across the top of each one. Some Navarrans place the trout on top of the slice of ham, a style of preparation known as ‘a caballo’, or on horseback. Either way you experience the exquisite taste of trout with salty Iberian ham.