My dad has this habit of announcing that things are either ‘famous’ or ‘better than anything you have ever tried.’ He does this with everything from restaurants and ice cream shops to calamari salads he finds at Costco. Often, when I haven’t been home in a few weeks, he’ll tell me about his most recent culinary discovery, beaming with excitement.
It’s not uncommon for our family’s dinner spread to be a mish mash of all sorts of food stuffs: my mom’s home-made Mexican-style shrimp cocktail or one of her many inspired salads, three different kinds of bread, dad’s grilled steaks and his various containers of olives, aforementioned Asian-style calamari salad, and my grandpa’s herring. We’re not theme-oriented to say the least.
It’s not hard to deduce that my dad’s character traits have had a significant influence on me, so bear with me as I tell you about this ‘famous,’ ‘better than anything you have ever tried’ cured trout. Ok, it’s not the most amazing thing you will ever taste, but the way that it comes together, and the resulting taste is pretty magical. And, listen, I’m no stranger to cured, dried, or smoked fish. I’ll pretty much eat it from a can, a plastic bag, or the back of a smoker. Don’t even tell me where it came from. One of these days, I tell myself that I must make it to Scandinavia and do nothing but eat cured, smoked and dried fish for days on end.
I digress. The Rye Whiskey-Cured Trout. It takes about 5 minutes to make, sits in your fridge for 5 hours, gets rinsed and is ready to eat in any form you’d like. All you anise-haters out there will cringe at the sound of the fennel salad, but as someone who hates anything black licorice, I can tell you that the fennel flavor is quite delicate and especially in the pickled fennel, you’ll really taste the saffron and vinegar. We used two small, whole, deboned trout. I cut off their heads, laid them flat on the baking dish, rubbed them with the salt mixture and allowed them to cure under the weight of my favorite cast iron skillet. The aromatics are really the magic touch here – the fresh orange zest, bitters and rye whiskey give this fish a taste unlike any other cured fish you’ve probably tried.
So there you go – make this and tell people it’s famous. Because why in the world not?
Rye-Whiskey Cured Trout with Fresh and Pickled Fennel
adapted from The Blackberry Farm Cookbook: Four Seasons of Great Food and the Good Life
For the cured trout:
2 small, skin-on trout fillets (about 5 ounces each)
1 cup of kosher salt
1 cup of light brown sugar
1/2 cup of rye whiskey
1 teaspoon of caraway seeds
3 dashes of bitters
orange zest from 1 orange
For the fennel salad:
3 small or 2 large fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups of rice vinegar
6 tablespoons of sugar
pinch of saffron threads
1 star anise pod
2 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. To make the cured trout, combine the salt, sugar, whiskey, caraway seeds, bitters and orange zest in a medium bowl. Mix well with your hands.
2. Rub the mixture into the fillets on both sides. Place the trout fillets on a rimmed baking sheet and cover with any remaining curing mixture. Top with a sheet of wax or parchment paper and weigh down the fish with a heavy cast iron skillet and place in the refrigerator for 5 hours.
3. After 5 hours, remove the fish from the refrigerator and rinse it under cold water to remove the curing mixture. Dry the fillets with paper towels and set aside as you prepare the fennel salad.
4. Combine the vinegar, 2 teaspoons of salt, sugar, star anise, and saffron in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Add half of the sliced fennel, stir and remove the pot from the heat. Allow the mixture to sit and cool to room temperature.
5. Drain the fennel, toss the star anise pod and roughly chop the fennel.
6. Combine the pickled fennel, fresh fennel, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Drizzle with a few glugs of olive oil and toss to combine.
7. To serve, place a slice of trout on each plate and top with the fennel salad.
Musical Pairings: Califone – Roomsound + Rye-Whiskey Cured Trout with Fresh and Pickled Fennel
Spin over to the Turntable for today’s Pairing.