Annie Assheton’s Trout Cookery Masterclass

Our celebrity cook, Annie Assheton, takes a a look at recipes that will help you to make more of your trout.

I would never claim to have any great skill as a fly fisher-woman, or in fact a huge amount of experience, but the few days I have spent on the bank of river or loch have been very precious indeed.

My father introduced me to fly fishing for trout when I was a child and he took me out a few times in a little wooden boat on a local lake.  Then, as now, I was allowed to borrow  a small split cane rod from him,  of which I have become incredibly fond.  I have been told that it does nothing to help my (very poor) casting technique and that I should try a modern, more flexible rod but its unique character and links with the past enhance my days on the riverbank to such a degree that I am happy to sacrifice hope of more success.

When I was working in London, before marriage and children, some friends and I used occasionally to escape to Dartmoor and spend a weekend fishing on the River Dart.  It was all quite wild and rugged and a wonderful antidote to city life.  Around the same time, I spent an incredible week on North Uist in the Outer Hebrides where I discovered what wild and rugged really meant and where even the midges couldn’t dent our appreciation of that glorious landscape.  More recently I have been lucky enough to be invited a few times to try my luck on the Test near Whitchurch in Hampshire, a beautiful stretch of river surrounded by glorious countryside and a place where every day cares seem far away.

Apart from my first time on the Test when I sauntered jauntily back to lunch proudly carrying my catch, I have always been faintly embarrassed to appear at the hut empty handed, but this has done nothing whatsoever to dent my enormous enjoyment of those days.  Somehow casting for (if not catching) trout with my ancient rod in those gorgeous surroundings manages to be exciting and all-consuming but also incredibly relaxing and even therapeutic.  I have always arrived home feeling as though everything is right with the world and should anything go wrong I will be perfectly able to deal with it.

So my freezer is not one that is regularly overflowing with my own catch as I know many can be.  However, I am often asked by those with far greater skill than me what they can do with their trout to ring the changes a bit as using the same old recipes can get a bit repetitive.  So I have spent a disproportionate amount of time trying out new ideas which is never a chore as trout is a favourite in our house.

Whole Trout

Cooking whole trout is of course a wonderfully easy way of producing flavoursome, succulent fish, enhanced by herbs and citrus fruit which can be stuffed inside and scattered around the fish, the whole thing then being wrapped in a foil parcel and baked in the oven or on the bbq.

If you do take the whole fish route I find it is best to make two or three slashes in the thickest section.  This both allows the additional flavours to penetrate but also helps it all to cook more evenly. It would be easy to get into the habit of adding the same types of flavouring to your parcel each time but there is nothing to stop you ringing the changes with some less usual combinations.  Asian flavours work really well with trout and one of my favourites is to parcel it up with some ginger chopped into fine strands, lemon grass, coriander and red chilli along with a dash of fish sauce and a squeeze of lime.  Serve on top of egg noodles tossed in a little sesame oil, or some rice livened up with some lime zest and freshly chopped coriander.  The zesty flavours cut through the oily flesh and enhance its subtle flavour.

Sliding cooked trout off the bone is pretty straightforward but most of the time I prefer to deal with that process before cooking so that we can relax and enjoy our supper without having to pick our way carefully through it.  The marvellous thing about fish of that general shape (trout, sea bass, sea bream, mackerel etc.) is that they are all put together in much the same way so once you have learnt how to fillet one you can do them all.  The important thing to remember is that once you have sliced the fillets cleanly away from the carcass they need to be pin boned which is fiddly but not difficult.  A small pair of pliers is the best tool for this job and since the pin bones are arranged neatly in a straight line it is easy to check whether or not you have found them all by running your finger along.  Remember that they are set at an angle so to avoid ripping the flesh they need to be pulled out at that angle.

Trout Cookery

Another option is to remove the bones from the fillets rather than the other way round, so you end up with a butterflied trout that can then be stuffed and reshaped.  Cooked this way it retains its succulence much like when you cook a whole trout and of course the flavour can be enhanced by whatever filling you choose.

Trout Fillets

You can leave the head and tail on to complete the overall appearance but I tend to take them both off.  To achieve the butterfly effect you need to approach with your knife from the belly side, carefully loosening the flesh away from the ribcage first and then the back bone.  Be careful not to slide your knife through the skin which attaches the two fillets at the top but it’s not the end of the world if you nick a couple of holes.

Filleting Trout

One of my favourite fillings is a stuffing made by softening finely chopped shallots and then adding cubes of pancetta to the pan.  Once it has released its fat add some chopped wild mushrooms (or chestnut mushrooms if that’s all you can find), followed by breadcrumbs and flaked almonds or pine nuts.  Finally stir through some finely chopped parsley and the zest of a lemon.

Trout Stuffing Mix

Unless you are cooking the trout straight away allow the stuffing to cool completely before using it to fill the seasoned cavity and then wrap the whole thing loosely in a foil parcel.  15 minutes in the oven at 180°C should be about right but if the skin doesn’t peel away easily when you test a corner give it another five minutes.  Chorizo would be great here in place of the pancetta if you want to give it all a bit more of a kick.

Stuffing Trout

Ceviche

One of the many benefits of catching your own supper is that you will, of course, have the very freshest fish to enjoy.

Ceviche is a process that requires the fish to be as fresh as possible and so is ideal to enjoy after a day on the water.  In this case there is no heat involved; the fish is ‘cooked’ by acidity in some form, usually lime juice, and at the same time takes on the flavour of aromatics which can also be included.

First you need to skin two trout fillets, make sure that all the bones have been removed and then dice it into roughly 1cm squares.  In a bowl combine 80ml of rapeseed oil with the zest and juice of two limes, two red chillies and one shallot (both finely chopped), some fresh coriander, a pinch of sugar and a generous pinch of sea salt.  When you get close to supper time stir the trout pieces through the dressing and leave it for ten minutes to ‘cook’.  I love serving this with some chopped avocado dressed with lime and coriander, and some rocket.

As an alternative, reduce the dressing ingredients to just the oil, lime juice, sugar and salt and serve this less feisty offering with a lovely fresh remoulade made from fennel and apple.  Both go really well with trout and just need to be sliced as finely as possible and then mixed with a combination of mayonnaise and crème fraiche.  I might stir through some dill and lemon zest as well and serve it all with some lightly dressed watercress.  As a starter this would be hard to beat.

As everyone knows, trout can be very successfully paired with almonds which bring out the natural nuttiness of the fish.  Of course toasted flaked almonds are a valid addition to many trout dishes but there are other, less obvious ways of capitalising from the affinity between these ingredients.

Poaching

I have long poached smoked fish in milk but more recently discovered that other poaching liquids can be really successful too and it’s a technique that works very well for many other types of fish.  For trout, I like to use almond milk, a trick I learnt when I worked in the kitchen at L’Ortolan, the wonderful Michelin starred restaurant near Reading in Berkshire.

Add some bay leaves, a roughly chopped shallot and some whole black peppercorns to almond milk in a saucepan large enough to accommodate a couple of trout fillets.   The fillets need to be submerged in the poaching liquor and everything can then be brought gently up to the boil.  At that point turn the heat off and leave the fish to poach gently for 8 minutes (more or less depending on the size of your fillets) whereupon you will be able to lift them carefully from the pan and peel off the skin.

Poaching Trout

Regarding the timing, do err on the side of caution and test for doneness sooner rather than later.  Overcooked fish is barely worth eating and you can always put it back in the pan for another few minutes.  I tend to serve this with simple new potatoes and some green beans, lightly dressed with oil and sherry vinegar and with roasted baby plum tomatoes stirred through.  This is a lovely green accompaniment which would enhance many dishes but I take probably disproportionate satisfaction from the rather subtle combination in this one of sherry and almonds, a pairing which we have often enjoyed before dinner when staying with friends in Madrid.

Poached Trout

My final suggestion possibly sprung to mind because the weather has just turned and there is a definite whiff of winter in the air.  At this time of year it’s hard to let go of the joys of summer and I often seem to cling on to it through my choice of ingredients; making the most of summery vegetables while they are still, just, at their best.  The aniseed flavour of fennel and the acidity of tomatoes both go incredibly well with oily trout and this is a wonderfully quick and easy but also elegant dish which is perfect for a lunch with friends and, with the addition of some new potatoes, can be made substantial enough for supper.

RECIPE: Trout with Roast Fennel and Tomatoes

1 fennel bulb
300g vine tomatoes
1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
2 trout fillets, pin boned
Rapeseed oil
Pre-heat the oven to 160°C.  Cut off the fronds and any tough outer parts of the fennel bulb and then divide it into 8 wedges.  Make sure you cut through the root so the pieces hold together.

Tomatoes and Fennel

Cut the tomatoes in half and then each half into three.  Arrange the tomato and fennel pieces in a shallow baking tray, sprinkle over the fennel seeds and drizzle it all with some oil.  Season with sea salt and black pepper and put in the oven for 30 minutes until the fennel is tender and the tomatoes are beginning to caramelise.

When you take the vegetables out of the oven, turn the temperature up to 180°C.  Season the trout fillets and sit them, skin side up, on top of the vegetables.  Once the oven has come up to temperature put it all back in for five minutes only.  Check that the trout is cooked by gently lifting up the skin; if it peels away easily the fish is cooked but if not put it back in for another two minutes.

Allow it all to rest for five minutes before serving.

Trout Recipe

I love to pair this with watercress in the form of both fresh, undressed leaves and also in mayonnaise as mentioned in my Farlows in the Field blog at Easter.  In case you missed that, all you need to do is thoroughly blitz watercress with some shop bought mayonnaise and season with salt and a squeeze of lemon.  This is one of my favourite sauces which goes brilliantly with all sorts of things and certainly finishes off this dish perfectly.

Annie Assheton

I'm a huge cooking enthusiast - which you would expect having been a former finalist on BBC's MasterChef. I joined the Farlows team of experts to help offer advice and recepies based around fieldsports along with key seasonal dates, such as Easter or Christmas.