I trundled through a wet spot as I neared the shallow end of the lake and noticed the early skunk cabbage were just beginning to show their purple heads above the short, lime green understory. I had my fly rod and a small box of newly tied flies. I was headed to a favorite spot for the first casts of the year.
Otis the golden retriever and Finley the spaniel know who’s cooking and hope there will be leftovers. (Photo/Gordon Hamersley)
In the distance what sounded like a small outboard engine started with slow beats, seemed to pick up speed and then abruptly halted after a six-second staccato drum roll. But I wasn’t fooled. I knew it was a grouse drumming on a log not far away.
I’d shot a partridge near here last November and saved some neck feathers for trout flies. The last few evenings had been spent tying soft hackled flies with the delicate feathers from the bird. When wet, the fibers undulate in the water, making the flies appear buggy and alive.
I love their simplicity, and the grouse feather colors are a study in camouflaged contrast. Most importantly, they catch hungry, early season trout.
I’m not a purist when it comes to catching trout, but I am when it comes to cooking them. A simple approach is best. If you can cook outdoors over a fire made of small, dead branches, it imparts a wonderful, smoky flavor to the fish. Try to use a cast iron pan for retained, even heat. If you don’t have one large enough for all the fish, try using two pans and about two tablespoons of butter in each. Speaking of which, this recipe calls for more butter than you think you should use. It’s OK because you’re going to make the sauce with that extra butter after the trout is done cooking.
At this time of year, a few brook trout in the creel can add up to a tasty meal for bird hunters who just can’t seem to tear themselves away from the outdoors. (Photo/Bill Weiss)
Dusting the skin side of the fish with flour will ensure a crispy skin. Don’t worry about a few lemon seeds in your sauce. This is campfire cookery.
It will be some time before we head into the grouse woods again, so try tying up some grouse and green or partridge and orange soft hackles and go fishing. That will help pass the time quickly until fall.
Mise en Place:
To prepare for cooking, chefs often utilize the concept of mise en place
, which means “to set into place” a recipe’s ingredients prior to starting. You can help Chef Hamersley prepare by suggesting ingredients you’d like him to set into place. Here’s how:
1. Look through your pantry to find a maximum of five “legitimate” ingredients you think might work well in a game bird recipe.
2. Send a list of those ingredients in an email with the Subject: In Place
3. From time to time, Chef Hamersley will select an entry and create a dish out of some or all of the ingredients (plus add some of his own, of course).
Trout with lemon, butter and parsleyIngredients
4 whole trout
1 teaspoon fresh chopped sage
1 shallot, sliced
4-6 tablespoons butter
½ cup flour
1 tablespoon cooking oil
Juice of 2 lemons
2 teaspoons chopped parsleyDirections
Open up the trout to expose the flesh and sprinkle with the sage and shallot. Close the sides of the fish. Dredge the outside skin of the trout in the flour and shake off the excess. Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper.
Heat the cooking oil and 4 tablespoons of butter in a large sauté pan until it stops bubbling. Place the trout into the pan and lower the heat to medium/low. Cook the trout on the first side for about 5-7 minutes. The heat should just be high enough so the fish gets crispy but does not burn. Flip the trout and finish cooking them for an additional 5 minutes. Check to see if the fish is cooked by lifting the flap of the topside of one trout filet. It should be white most of the way along the side of the fish. The trout will continue to cook when you remove it from the pan so a little translucency is OK. Remove the fish to a warm platter and reserve while making the sauce.
Return the pan to the heat and add the remaining butter. When it stops bubbling and turns a nutty brown, remove the pan from the fire and let the butter cool down for 30 seconds. Add the lemon juice and parsley to the pan and shake to combine. Tilt the skillet so the butter and lemon juice pool on one side of the pan. The butter should foam. Add more salt and pepper if needed and spoon the butter sauce over the trout. Serve with a watercress salad.