I know a lot of people who either don’t like fish or are intimidated by cooking fish. If you fall into one of these categories, let me start by saying that fish is super easy to cook. For this whole rainbow trout, all you need is sea salt, extra virgin olive oil, a few sprigs of fresh herbs (today, I used tarragon, but any number of herbs would pair well, rosemary or thyme perhaps). Then, 3 minutes per side in a hot pan to crisp up the skin, followed by 6 to 7 minutes in the oven until the fish is fully cooked through. That’s it. Quick and easy to prepare, with a resulting flavor that is is anything but simple; especially drizzled with a little brown butter (more on that in a bit).
From a taste standpoint, rainbow trout is fairly mild, with soft, moist, delicate meat. Rainbow trout are sustainable to boot. I typically avoid farm-raised fish, as many aquatic farms utilize unsustainable fishing practices. On the contrary, U.S.-raised rainbow trout are considered a “best choice.”
A little sauce to liven things up never hurts. Today, for the first time, I made a hazelnut brown butter (referred to as beurre noisette in French, which translate into hazelnut butter). While rainbow trout is decidedly tasty on its own, the brown butter elevates it to another level. When you brown butter, it brings out its inherent (and delicious) nuttiness.
Am already imagining a million ways to incorporate brown butter into other dishes, sweet and savory. If you haven’t tried making brown butter, I suggest you run out the store and get some good quality butter and give this a try. It will change your world. It’s really that good.
Such an interesting process (food chemistry before your eyes)…as the butter melts, it goes through several stages as the water boils off and the milk solids caramelize. First, if begins to foam, then the color transforms from its normal yellow to golden-tan to, finally, an amber-brown, at which point it begins to exude a wonderful, nutty, toasty aroma. That’s when you’ll want to take it off the heat, otherwise it will burn.
Serve with a salad or a side of sauteed greens, and you have yourself one tasty dinner that’s up there with just about any whole fish you might order out. Dare I say, even better (and at a fraction of the cost)!
Rainbow Trout with Tarragon and Hazelnut Brown Butter
Inspired by Bon Appetit
1-2 whole Rainbow Trout (~1 pound each), scaled and cleaned
Few sprigs fresh herbs, such as tarragon, thyme, or rosemary
1 lemon, thinly sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Hazelnut brown butter (recipe to follow)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Pat the fish dry with a paper towel. Season the fish, including the cavity, with sea salt. Stuff the fish with a few sprigs of fresh herbs and lemon slices.
Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. When sizzling hot, add the trout and scatter a few lemon slices around the pan. Cook the trout for 3 minutes until the underside skin is lightly browned. Flip and cook for another 3 minutes. Place the skillet in the oven for 6 to 7 minutes, until the fish is cooked through.
Place the trout on a serving platter, along with the charred lemon slices. Drizzle with the hazelnut brown butter.
Note: Tarragon is a perennial herb with a distinctive aniseed/licorice flavor.
Hazelnut Brown Butter
Depending on the number of fish, you can easily double this recipe; this is plenty for two fish.
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup hazelnuts
2 tablespoons lemon juice
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toast the hazelnuts in the oven about 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly colored and the skins are blistered. Wrap the nuts in a kitchen towel and rub the nuts around in the towel to loosen the skins. Don’t worry if all the skins don’t come off. Roughly chop the hazelnuts and set aside.
Heat a small skillet on medium heat. Add the butter, whisking frequently. Watch carefully. The butter will foam up, then turn from yellow to light tan to an amber-brown, and release a nutty aroma in just a matter of minutes. When it turns amber-brown, remove from the heat and place on a cool surface to prevent the butter from burning.
When cooled a bit, add the chopped hazelnuts and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.
Note: Brown butter can be used immediately or refrigerated in an airtight container for several weeks.
I know that some people are averse to whole fish because of the head (eyeballs and all) and bones. If you are squeamish about serving a whole fish (head and all), you (or your fishmonger) can easily remove it. You can also have the fishmonger debone the fish.