This year Mother Nature has played fast and loose with brown trout and their catchers. Following a calm opening to the season, rain and snow-melt in the back country have pushed river levels here in Northern Southland to a racing high.
Last month, the turbulent Mataura and Oreti were spilling into paddocks, then they were receding but more rain is falling - and more is forecast - so heaven knows when anglers will be pulling on their waders again.
Before the mayhem, a fishing-mad neighbour presented us with two large fillets of fresh trout, sliced from a beauty caught that morning in his never-fail spot. Thank you, Dave. That night we feasted on a dish that really does justice to this superb fish.
Heat a splash of olive oil and a generous knob of butter in a pan over a medium heat until the butter begins to foam. Swirl pan briefly to mix fats, put fillets in, skin-side down, and cook for 3-5 minutes, depending on thickness. Turn fillets over and continue cooking for a further 3-4 minutes, or until done.
Just before serving, squeeze fresh lemon juice over the fish and into the pan. Place fillets on serving plates, shake pan quickly to amalgamate juices and pour over the fish. Scatter with finely chopped parsley - or lightly toasted flaked almonds - and serve with new potatoes and a mound of buttery asparagus.
Should you have plenty of trout to hand, variations on this classic sauce will be welcome.
Fry finely sliced spring onions (or shallots) and chopped streaky bacon in oil and butter in a large pan, stirring the while. When they begin to catch, push them evenly to the edge of the pan (where they will continue to cook). Cook fish fillets, as above, in the centre of the pan, then place on serving plates and keep warm.
Increase heat to high and add a generous splash of chicken stock. Stir onion and bacon into stock and continue cooking, stirring often, until liquid has noticeably reduced. Pour juices over the fish. Other great sauce combos include spring onions, mushrooms, breadcrumbs, fresh herbs and cream, or spring onions, sliced apples, cider and cream.
Cooked trout is also excellent cold. Make an olive oil-lemon juice dressing and add capers, fresh herbs and hardboiled eggs, all finely chopped. Fork fish into bite-sized pieces on a heap of shredded lettuce and spoon dressing over. Serve with potato salad.
As for food smokers, what a boon they are for lovers of trout. Try it, roughly flaked, in a simple salad of chick peas, baby broad beans, grated carrot and diced red capsicum, tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette and sprinkled with chopped parsley.
Smoked trout also makes a great pt.
Flake 250g of smoked trout into a food processor and add a generous half-cup of crme frache, 2 tablespoons each of lemon juice and olive oil, 1 tablespoon of a good horseradish sauce and a good pinch of cayenne pepper. Pulse ingredients until you have the desired texture and serve, sprinkled with finely chopped parsley, with plain or pepper-flavoured crackers.
Everyone loves fish cakes and today's recipe is a beauty. I used trout, but any smoked or cooked fish will do; feel free to vary the quantities shown. Served with lemon quarters, plenty of oven-baked wedges and a hearty green salad, it will soon become a family favourite.
TANGY FISH CAKES
Makes 6-8 cakes
300g smoked or cooked trout, roughly flaked
350g creamy mashed potato
2 Tbsp freshly chopped parsley
1 Tbsp chopped capers
2-3 chopped dill gherkins
2 hardboiled eggs, chopped small
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 pinches cayenne pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and freshly ground black pepper
To coat and fry
1-2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp vegetable oil and 1 Tbsp butter
Place all fish cake ingredients in a large bowl and gently combine.
Taste mixture and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Form mixture into 6-8 balls, press hard with an egg-slice or spatula to produce thickish but even cakes, and chill until ready to cook.
Meanwhile, heat oil and butter in a pan over a medium heat and shake to combine.
Dip each cake into beaten egg then coat lightly with breadcrumbs, not forgetting the edges.
When oil and butter are hot, fry cakes until golden-brown, about 4-5 minutes a side.
Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately.
- The Southland Times