Rainbow Trout Quandry
Posted on November 15, 2013 by Tim Tolbert
This post details a deep dive into obsessive gourmand territory.
Up here in northern Michigan we’ve hit what is commonly known as the shoulder season. The vibrant colored leaves of Fall are quickly piling up outside and the winds are beginning to bite. We’re about a month away from welcoming tourists and skiers back up north for the festive holiday period. These days, if I don’t hop in my car and make the 20 minute drive to Petoskey, I risk not seeing another human being all-day-long.
Time is life’s ultimate luxury item. Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with some of it lately and what better way to enjoy some of that time than immersing yourself in a two day Rainbow Trout pickling project?
Burt Lake is a fisherman’s paradise, the fourth largest inland lake in Michigan behind Lake Charlevoix, Torch and Houghton. Upon my arrival last week, I was the lucky beneficiary of a beautiful 4lb Rainbow Trout which had been caught in the lake and quickly cleaned and frozen about a month ago. No…I did not catch the fish, I’ll make that clear right now. A neighbor had left it for the family before he had to head south for the winter.
After a careful thaw, I realized there was no way I was going to be able to enjoy all of this fish in one sitting. I had originally intended on roasting the fish whole on a Weber gas grill but realized that the fish had been filleted leaving two gorgeous sides of pink hued flesh with the silver rainbow skin gleaming in the kitchen light.
I had no intention of subjecting the leftover side of this trout to a re-freeze so I quickly started to research ideas on a clever way to utilize this Rainbow short of a repeat dinner the next night. Luckily, I stumbled upon a recipe for Rollmops by Alton Brown. Let me admit right now that I’m a fan of Mr. Brown and generally trust his judgment and kitchen prowess. If you have a chance to catch his “The Edible Inevitable Tour” you should. I continued skimming some other pickling recipes but ultimately settled on Alton’s Rollmops version.
So, what the hell are Rollmops? That was the first question that came into my mind as I quickly glanced the search results for my pickled rainbow trout google query. Now properly educated, Rollmops are a marinated fillet of herring wrapped around a pickle or an onion and served as an hors d’oeuvre with crusty bread and butter. Alton being Alton decided that Rainbow Trout (or other inland lakes or river fresh water fish) might also be a good vehicle for the recipe. I was determined to find out.
Alton’s recipe was laid out in four distinct steps:
1. Preparing the brine for the fish
2. Preparing the pickling liquid for the fish
3. Brining the fish
4. Assembling the Rollmops and then pickling them
Step one was simple, pour some water and kosher salt into a large container and stir until the salt was dissolved. Submerge the cut up pieces of trout in the brine and refrigerate overnight.
Step Two was also pretty simple although I didn’t have every exact spice on hand. Some quick improvisation from other ingredients worked just fine. After bringing the pickling liquid to a boil you simply let it sit and come to room temperature before refrigerating overnight.
Step Three was a bit more involved. I noticed that the skin of the trout was quite firm and not easy to pierce with a toothpick so I made a last minute decision to remove the skin from each of my pieces. Although not quite as attractive rolled up with the skin side up I’m pretty confident that I’ll lose nothing in flavor or ease of use. I used my favorite Dijon mustard (Maille) and found an attractive glass jar in which to assemble and pickle the finished product.
A Mandoline was used to ensure a nice razor thin julienned onion which would be packed in layers over and under each layer of fish. I used Tony Packo’s sweet and spicy pickles as the extra ingredient in my Rollmops.
The recipe called for a variable pickling time of anywhere from 5 hours to 48 hours. I tried my first Rollmop approximately 24 hours after they had been put away with some outstanding Crooked Tree Breadworks whole grain toast. The fish had a fantastic pickled flavor with the aggressively spiced liquid adding a nice little hit to each bite. The texture was also fantastic, the fish very firm with the pickled onions adding a nice counterpoint crunch.
Alton Brown’s Rollmops
For the brine:
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 quart water
1 pound trout filets from small, 6 to 8 ounce whole fish, scaled, skin on, and cut into 16 to 20 (4 to 6-inches long by 1-inch wide) pieces
For the pickle:
2 cups water
2 cups cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
8 whole cloves
8 whole allspice berries
6 whole black peppercorns
4 dried bay leaves
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
16 to 20 cornichon and/or pickled onion
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 medium onion, julienned
Place the salt and water into a 4-quart container and stir until the salt has dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the trout filets, making sure they are submerged. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Combine water, vinegar, sugar, cloves, allspice, peppercorns, bay leaves, and red pepper flake in a 2-quart saucepan set over medium high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid comes to a boil, approximately 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate overnight.
Remove the trout from the brine and rinse thoroughly under cold running water for 1 minute. Submerge the filets in clean cold water and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Drain and rinse the filets. Pat dry. Lay the filets in a single layer, skin side down and brush each with mustard. Place a cornichon or a pickled onion on the filet. Roll up each filet and secure with 1 or 2 toothpicks. Alternate layers of rollmops and julienned onion in a glass jar or ceramic crock.
Pour on the chilled pickling mixture, cover and refrigerate for at least 5 hours and up to 2 days. Drain and serve chilled with crusty bread.