Aaah Saturday, one of the most perfect days ever conceived. And so my weekly menu plan for this Saturday called for the following:
- Protein: Trout
- Starchy Side: Rice
- Vegetable: Fiddleheads
Having spent the bulk of my dormant culinary life BBQing and fast-frying almost exclusively, the magic of trout had nearly always eluded me. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I first took the plunge and poached this delectable fish; only then did I truly discover it’s rich and beautiful flavour. I was excited to prepare this spectacular main and have everything turn out just right.
Rice on a Saturday is a blessing, and would normally have me reaching for something rich and nutty like wild rice, brown jasmine or Indonesian black rice. This night however, I couldn’t possibly resist the temptation to stand stirring at attention over a delicious creusé of sumptuous Italian arborio as it slowly evolved into delicious mushroom risotto.
Lastly, my menu plan unforgivingly surprised me … in November … with a very spring-time vegetable ingredient selection of: fiddleheads. I looked carefully to be sure, but nobody sells these fresh when they are out of season so I opted instead for some nice fresh zucchini. I secretly suspected that fiddleheads would be unavailable, but at least they were on the radar for a moment and that’s what is so lovely about the menu plan … even if it seems impossible, you have to try.
All those years of BBQ Salmon, smoked salmon, planked salmon; I still love salmon but trout and I were never buddies until Liz introduced me to the magical art of poaching. In my opinion, Martha has the poached trout market cornered with this delectable recipe. If you’re new to poaching, don’t miss out on a great opportunity to make Martha’s dish exactly as you see it. It’s weird, and wonderful, and well worth your while I promise. Personally I subbed the leek for a fennel stock and added some celery just because, but otherwise I stuck to the script.
It occurs to me at times like this however that I suffer from I-don’t-have-all-the-right-pots-itus. With 3 good sized trout fillets ready to go I found myself trouble-shooting for a large enough pan to poach with. Luckily we have an electric skillet with large straight sides that was perfect for the job. Set to 275, my poaching liquid was aromatic and simmering with loads of room to spare for the lovely fish fillets; guess you could call it a fillet skillet!
There are many different opinions about how to make good risotto, but very few chefs have any argument about how to make truly great risotto. You get comfy with a large pot of warm flavourful broth, sauté the dry rice, give it a drink of wine (and some for yourself of course), then slowly add stock and stir until it’s perfect.
In between stirring (and drinking wine) I also happen to be a proud peeler of mushrooms. Yes folks I have been peeling my mushrooms religiously ever since I can remember … it’s a thing. As such, I had a lovely bowl full of mushroom peelings and couldn’t resist the opportunity to make some mushroom broth. This, along with my large supply of home-made vegetable broth made an excellent one-two combo each time I would feed the risotto.
Jamie Oliver also lent a hand with his suggestion in this recipe to grill the mushrooms for a lovely added nutty flavour; good call Jamie, it worked perfectly. I sautéed the mushrooms first so they could release the wonderful hearty juice inside. This mushroom liquid went into the risotto and left the mushrooms ready for another trip to the sauté pan until they were nicely golden with a little crisp to them … awesome.
Shockingly, there were no fiddleheads at my grocer in mid-November (y’think?). Substituting the zucchini was a simple fix but I really wanted to avoid cooking it. Poaching the trout compelled me to keep the natural tender texture of this subtle veg as part of the meal experience. Martha had already contributed so much with the main dish, it seemed only fitting to turn to her for some zucchini wisdom.
This zucchini salad recipe is deceivingly simply yet perfectly balanced. To keep it dairy free I omitted the cheese and added some baked home-made croutons using udi gluten-free white bread. It’s important to either hide croutons when they’re done or just make extra since they are an automatic target for snack-and-runners … you’ve been warned!
I was personally very pleased with this Saturday’s menu. It was so satisfyingly fresh, wholesome and delicious. The poached trout had a lovely flavour and silky texture, and combined with the bright fresh zucchini salad it was a perfect match. Anytime you thought that was just good enough, there was the complex and powerful risotto waiting to punch you in the mouth with a knockout.
I had an important culinary moment just as I was about to plate the trout. If you’ve seen the recipe linked above, you may have noticed at the very end it says to mix xx tablespoons of poaching liquid with a few tablespoons of olive oil. It’s such a small sentence at the end of a great recipe that you could easily forget it or even omit it altogether. Please do it, and be sure to whisk it well, because the outcome is such an outstanding touch of class to an already stellar meal, you won’t be disappointed. I was thoroughly impressed and will always remember that moment in my culinary adventures; it’s truly amazing what water, vinegar and a couple vegetables with just the right flavourings can do.
They certainly don’t always play out so well, but my weekly menu plan this Saturday was exactly the motivation I was looking for to stay on target and cook, cook, cook … practice is everything.