DEAR PERSNICKETY fish-eating readers: This column is not for you. It’s for people like me — who love to eat fish on the bone.
Call us the pickers and grinners club.
As a card-carrying member, I could wax rhapsodic about the sexy whole finfish that are all the rage on Seattle menus (I’m talking to you, grilled dorade and wood-roasted branzino). Instead, allow me to pay homage to the humble pan-fried trout.
Universally available for about $6 per pound, rainbow trout — farmed in nearby Idaho — is a cheap date that comes dressed for success (head on, guts out). Sustainably minded? Lucky you: It’s a Best Choice on the Seafood Watch list.
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And what could be easier or quicker than pan-frying a trout at home?
Yeah, yeah, I know: ordering it at a restaurant. I’ve done that plenty, but when I try to re-create that eminently edible skin at home, I often come up short, and soggy.
What am I doing wrong? And how can I right my technique?
To answer that, I hooked up with chef Travis Kukull, owner of Gastropod, a tiny restaurant sharing space in SoDo with Seattle’s Epic Ales Brewery. There, in his compact kitchen, Kukull’s stovetop is nonexistent. Ditto for a smoke-sucking hood.
Proving this ain’t no magic show, the chef showed me how to fry trout on a single propane burner, using an ovenproof, nonstick pan, though he agrees that for best results, nothing beats a smoking-hot, well-seasoned, cast-iron skillet. Whatever you choose, he cautions, bigger is better: Don’t crowd the pan.
Do salt aggressively, he instructs. Stuff the fish to the gills with blood orange and fresh dill (or lemon and thyme), then fry it briefly over high heat. “If the skin feels like sandpaper, you know it’s getting crispy.”
Demonstrating, he flipped the trout (“hold onto the belly so you don’t lose the stuff in the middle”) then blasted it, briefly, in a hot oven.
What? It’s still not crisp enough?
Relax: “Put it back on the burner over medium-high heat and it’ll crisp up really fast,” he said, finishing the trout — heads you win, tails you win! — with a buttery baste and a lemony flourish.
Travis’ Tried-and-True Pan-fried Trout
2 small rainbow trout
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 blood orange, thinly sliced
6 large sprigs fresh dill
Canola oil for frying
Half a stick cold butter, quartered
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. To prepare the trout: Blot the skin dry with paper towels and rub with olive oil. Generously shower each fish with salt and pepper. Tuck three or four orange slices and three large dill sprigs into each cavity.
3. Heat a large cast-iron skillet (or other ovenproof pan), then add enough canola oil to generously coat it. When the oil is hot, fry the trout over high heat for 2 minutes on one side. Lower heat to medium-high, cook another minute until the skin is crisp and browned. Carefully flip the trout. Fry 3 minutes on the second side. Transfer pan to the oven and cook 5 minutes. Remove from oven and pour off any excess oil.
4. To make the pan sauce: Using an oven mitt, return pan to the burner over medium-high heat, add butter, tilt the pan, and with a soup spoon quickly and repeatedly baste the trout with the melting butter (about 20 seconds).
5. Remove the trout to warm plates, then deglaze the pan with the lemon juice until the sauce reduces slightly. Sauce and serve.
Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times’ food writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dean Rutz is a Times staff photographer.