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Famous Rye Whiskey-Cured Trout and My Dad

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

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Posted by Kasey

Kasey is the food editor and co-founder of Turntable Kitchen. She loves dark chocolate, warm crusty bread, and traveling to new places. She speaks Russian, but does not like vodka.

  • “…to calamari salads he finds at Costco” — ha! A friend of mine was just telling me about his grandfather’s recipe for cured fish. It sounds similar to this one, but he makes it with salmon instead. Now I’m really curious…

  • @Jess: I’d love to see that recipe on your blog! I love cured fish – this one is definitely not what I’m used to – it’s a nice surprise (and who ever think – comes from a book on Southern cooking?)

  • What a unique and fresh sounding dish. Have you ever seen New Scand Cooking on PBS? I pretty much want to eat everything they make! It all looks so wonderful.

  • Nicole- I haven’t, but thanks for the tip! I am now definitely going to check this out 🙂

  • That sounds so super-delicious. I love it when people add the word ‘famous’ to something they’re introducing you to. It’s so over the top.

  • Megan Gordon

    Oh this cracked me up. My Dad does this, too. I tell him he’s prone to hyperbole often…pretty much everything is “unbelievable” or “the best ever” from a vacation to a cocktail to a maple he saw while walking in the morning… fennel from farmer’s market? xo.

  • Anonymous

    Sometimes you just have to 😉

  • I love that your dad does the same thing 😉 Fennel was actually from Whole Foods (I haven’t seen it at the farmer’s market in a few weeks now!)

  • Tom D

    I’m looking forward to trying this… where do you get fresh enough trout in the city, Kasey? My go-to fishmongers can’t deliver the goods on this one.

  • Tom, I usually find trout at Whole Foods (the one on Haight Street) but Andronico’s in the Sunset also has tons of it. You can also often call these bigger grocery stores ahead of time and ask them to get some in for you! Hope you find some trout. 🙂

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