This technique lets the delicate flavor of the trout be the star.
San Leon, Texas is a small drinking community with a large fishing problem. Being gifted with live fish is a thing here. It’s a way of saying, “Howdy, neighbor” or “Thanks for the ride home last night”. You can’t pussyfoot around with fresh fish. It must be dealt with as soon as possible. Dealing with fish means learning to fillet like a boss. I’ve seen fishing guides go through 20 fish in 15 minutes. Butterflying this trout took me about 15. Still, it is an easy technique as you don’t have to scale or de-bone the fish. My uncle Carl Dunn says trout start to deteriorate the minute you take them off ice so I’d better bone up on my de-boning.
Cold smoking is a great way to keep meats for longer stretches. Our ancestors all did it but they had fancy smoke houses. All you need for this dish is a cast iron skillet, rice, tea and some heavy duty foil. Once the fish is butterflied the technique is easy.
Unlike wood-chip stove-top smoking this technique is very subtle and won’t smoke up your house. The result is a clean fish taste with a hint of tea and lavender. I can think of a million variations I’d like to try: orange rinds, sage, anise, lemongrass…. I used Lavande tea which you can get at the Eastside Farmers Market. Pair the fish with a complimentary sour cream sauce and cracker for an hors d’oeurvre or add it to a whole grain salad with cranberries and cheese.
Cast Iron Skillet Lavender Smoked Trout
For the trout:
- 1 Whole Trout
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp black, green or red pepper
- 1/4 tsp brown sugar
For the “smoke”
- 1 cup dry rice (brown or white)
- 1/2 cup lavender black tea or any other tea.
To butterfly the fish:
Reach your knife under one gill of the fish. In one motion, cut through the throat of the fish and under the gill of the other side. Cut the head off of the fish applying pressure to the back of the fish’s spine. Separate the head. Stick the knife into the neck of the fish and cut the fish from the belly to the neck so that it opens up. It helps to use a clean towel to help grip the fish and protect your hands. Scrape the stomach and intestines from inside the fish working from the flayed part towards the backbone. Remove all the insides. Clean up the fish with lots of running water. Spread the fish open as much as possible. Working on one side of the spine, start to remove the backbone. You will have to crack through some bones to make this work. I like to work from the tail to the head scraping my knife as close to the spine as possible so that the fillet looks nice and I get all the meat. Remove the back bone. Now the fish should butterfly nicely and you can season it with the salt, pepper and sugar.
To smoke the fish:
Get the skillet on the fire and set the heat to a low medium. Measure out a bit of foil that will seal the smoke and cover the fish. When the pan is nice and hot add the brown rice and tea. Create an air gap between the fish and the smoke. You can use a commercial grate, or bundled up aluminum foil. I used a pile of spoons formed in a criss cross pattern. When the pan is hot and you start to see rice popping, place the fish skin side down on the grate. Seal the whole thing in foil so that smoke can’t escape. It will be a very subtle smoke so don’t worry if there are no billows. It’s important that the heat isn’t too high or you will burn the rice. If the rice burns, start over with new rice and lower heat. When all of the fish has turned from a fleshy color to an opaque white it is done. The time will vary widely with the size of the fish. Check it after about eight minutes. When it is done remove it from the heat and cool it down. The fish should be very easy to separate from the skin at this point but you may also choose to leave it on for a more dramatic presentation.
I nearly missed dewberry season. Growing up in Texas I picked dewberries when they magically appeared before me. I gave no thought to their meaning in the greater scheme of life. Now I’m learning to watch for them. They are the first berry of berry season. They do their thing in early may and they do it quickly. Timing is critical. Next year, I’ll know to watch for little white flowers early in spring.
Not every dewberry patch is the same. The older a dewberry plant gets the less fruit it bares so it’s best if a field is grazed or mowed every couple of years.Dewberries are among the first fruits of spring so they are a welcome breakfast to bees, bats and bunnies.
This recipe can be used with any berry; strawberries, blueberries, blackberries etc…or perhaps with a nice Chevre.
Dewberry Grilled Cheese Sandwich
When there's not enough berries for a pie
I made this sandwich with sharp cheddar and Gouda but I’d like to try it with Fontana, Havarti, a spicy Monterrey Jack or some local chevre.
- 2 slices of good bread
- Strong white meltable cheese such as Fontana or Havarti
- 2 pats of butter
- 1 small handful of berries (any kind will do)
- 1 tsp sugar, honey, or agave
- 1 tbs Red wine vinegar, or any vinegar in a pinch
- 1 small sliver of onion (smaller and thinner than a dime)
- 1 small sliver of Serrano pepper
For the Gastrique:
Add the red wine vinegar and the sugar together in a frying pan on medium heat. Add the onion and pepper and cook until the sauce thickens just a bit. Add the berries and let the sauce thicken for about a minute. The sauce should be honey-like. It will thicken as it cools.
For the Sandwich:
Get a separate frying pan hot on medium heat. Heat up one side of each slice of the bread just until it’s hot. Turn the heat down to a low medium. Add butter to the unheated side of one slice of bread and place it butter-side down in the pan. Build the sandwich using layers of cheese and the sauce. Butter the other slice of bread and place it on top. Cover the frying pan. ( I usually use the other frying pan that I made the sauce in.) Let one side brown for two minutes or so, check it frequently but don’t move it around too much. The secret to a good brown is not to move your product around. Flip the sandwich over and brown the top. When the cheese is melted and the bread is toasted you’re done.
Oysters inspired by Banh Mi sandwich
Oyster folk in Galveston Bay have had a rough go of it over the last ten years but this year may have been the worst. The bad luck started in 2008 when Hurricane Ike suffocated oyster reefs with the churning muck of the bay. Next came a drought lasting six years, allowing oyster parasites run amok, killing our precious critters before they reached maturity.
Then, all of a sudden, rain. Rain is good for oysters in the long run (oysters need a brackish mix of fresh and salty water) but it can be bad in the short run. Too much fresh water can bring red tide, and while there is debate as to whether the red tide hit Galveston Bay there is no debate that Texas Parks and Wildlife closed all but one reef for the first two and a half months of oyster season. Oyster companies missed the holiday rush that they’d grown accustomed to. Add to all this mess a never-ending lawsuit between the three biggest oyster companies in Texas and you’ve got nothing but grief for Texas oystermen.
The next few seasons are going to be some of the best we’ll see. A good hard rain can produce three years worth of bumper crops. That being said, the end of the season means many Texans flip the switch from raw to cooked oysters, while others prefer to wait for next November 1st. I say we still have a nice little window for cooked oysters before the long hot summer begins in earnest.
This recipe is loosely based on a banh mi sandwich, which I first tried somewhere close to McKinney Street in downtown Houston. Vietnamese food is now as much a part of me as French cuisine is them. I’ll never give it up.
For the Fried Oysters:
- 2 dozen medium to large oysters with their shells, plus a few for practice
- 6 eggs
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 cup flour
- 3 cups panko bread crumbs
- 4 cups peanut oil
For the Vinaigrette:
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/8 cup lime juice
- 1/8 cup rice wine vinegar
- 2 thin slices of jalapeno
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
For the Mayonnaise:
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tbsp Srirracha
For the Garnish:
- 1/2 cucumber
- 1/2 carrot
- 1 tbsp each, mint, cilantro, basil
- 1 box rock salt
The mayonnaise and the vinaigrette can be made the day before. Simply mix the ingredients together. If you make the vinaigrette ahead of time, the jalapeno will intensify over night. This could be a good thing depending on your tolerance for spice.
To prepare the garnish, Use a cheese grater to get nice thin strips of carrot and cucumber. It is not necessary to peel the carrot but you may want to give it a good scrub. When grating the cucumber, don’t peel it. Just grate the outside firm part and leave the fleshy, seedy part for a snack. Coarsely chop the herbs and mix by hand.
Heat the oil on medium heat or in a deep fryer. You want to get the temperature to about 350 degrees. Prepare three breading containers for the battering process.Spread the flour across a plate and mound the panko on another. Crack all of the eggs into a bowl with the water and whisk until well blended.
Start with four to five oysters at a time. Begin by removing any excess liquid from the oyster and then tossing them lightly in the flour. Gently dust off any access flour then dunk them in your egg batter. Give them another gentle tap removing any access egg then roll them in the panko. Be gentle. Place one of the oysters in the oil to ensure that the oil is the correct temperature. The oyster should immediately begin sizzling. If everything is a go, place the rest of the oysters in the oil and fry them until golden-brown, then drain them on paper towels or a drain board.
To plate: Spread the rock salt across a tray or table and place the empty oyster shells in the salt so they don’t wobble. Add a teaspoon (or as much as each shell will hold) of vinaigrette into each shell. Next add a fried oyster to each shell. Top with a dab of Srirracha mayonnaise and a tiny bit of garnish. Serve immediately.
Oyster and Potato Gratin
Made from Mischo’s Seafood Oyster company oysters, local potatoes, spinach cream, This baked winter dish is a one pot meal. This recipe makes six individual tiny casseroles or one 9 X 9 casserole.
2 medium russet potatoes or their equivalent in red potatoes
1/2 pint of fresh oysters
1 pound of fresh de-veined spinach
1 cup of shredded hard white cheese such as cheddar or asiago
1 1/2 cups of heavy cream
4 Tblsp. butter
2 pieces of bacon
Sea Salt and Pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
Cut the bacon into small strips and fry it lightly in a frying pan. Discard the grease.
As these are frying start cutting your potatoes into 1/4 of an inch discs (very thin). It is best to cut the potatoes with a mandolin but it is not crucial.
Layer the bottom of your pan with half of the potato discs, overlapping the potatoes as they will shrink when cooking.
The next layer will be spinach which need to be as dry as possible. If they are wet spin them in a salad spinner or dry them with clean towels.
Sprinkle the bacon, oysters and half of the cheese across the top of the spinach as evenly as you can.
Salt and pepper the dish.
Top the casserole with another layer of potato discs arranged in pretty rows.
Pour heavy cream onto the casserole until it just covers the top layer of potatoes while you are pressing down on the potatoes with your hand.
Add little pats of butter to the top of the casserole and cover with plastic wrap and foil.
Place the casserole in the oven for 30 minutes.
Remove the casserole. Remove the wrapping and sprinkle the rest of your cheese evenly across the top of the dish.
Return the casserole to the oven and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes.
The casserole will still be liquidy and bubbling when it is done and it must rest for about 10 minutes before it sets up and thickens.
Serve with a nice salad.