Monday, 17 August 2015

Pan-fried and hot smoked wild seatrout with date, braised chicory, rocket and white balsamic

After Katie and I got married back in June, we spent the following week driving around the west coast of Scotland, meandering through mountain ranges and hopping on and off ferries as we explored Skye, Lewis and Harris. We got lucky on the wedding day itself, with glorious sunshine that burned the back of my neck and had all of the children cartwheeling in the fields. We royally paid for it on our honeymoon though, and bore the true reality of a Scottish summer. Horizontal rain was frequent, and night temperatures had me reaching out for an extra blanket. But we were full of dizzy adrenaline-fuelled happiness and nothing could have dampened our spirits. 

Part of the objective for our honeymoon was exploring the food that that part of the country had to offer. It seemed as though you couldn’t talk to anyone about the islands without hearing a story about a £5 lobster, a ginormous black pudding or the best fish supper in the land. We hit jackpot on our first night, when we decided to treat ourselves with a stay at The Three Chimneys on Skye. The whole experience was sensational, and I can honestly say that the meal that we had there was the best food that I have ever eaten. Everything was so delicately and fantastically judged, and each dish was crammed full of produce grown, caught or reared a matter of miles away. I wish that I could visit again for more crab and apple parfait, Cullen skink and marmalade soufflĂ©. All in an environment where you could walk out the door and be blasted with fresh sea air.
Obviously that meal was going to be hard to top, but the rest of the holiday was still scattered with truly memorable eating experiences. From wonderful steaming hot fish and chips overlooking Portree harbour, to frying thick wedges of steak on a campfire, whilst sea otters played yards away in the estuary. We even managed to find a remote roadside honesty box on bleak and barren Harris crammed full of the most delicious frangipane tarts. So although we’re still searching for that bargain lobster or bucketful of langoustines, I think we managed ok.
And these happy recaps lead me onto this recipe. I wanted to take inspiration from our travels, and incorporate a very Scottish ingredient into this blog. While we were away in late June, sea trout were bang in season, flooding the rivers on their journey back from the oceans. When I returned back to work I had access to some fantastic wild fish from Montrose, and having never cooked one before I jumped at the chance.
Obviously I’m a little late with this post and the season for seatrout is sadly over for another year. But now with wild salmon season in full swing, they would make a perfect substitute.
Serves 2
For the pan-fried seatrout: 

2 fillets of wild seatrout from a 2kg fish, trimmed and pin-boned
For the date puree:
1 handful of dates, stoned 
1 lemon, juice only 
1 tbsp caster sugar 
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
2-3 tbsp boiling water
For the hot-smoked seatrout: 

2 thin slices of seatrout, approx. 70g each 
1 tbsp honey 
1 bunch of thyme 
1 handful of rice 
2 tbsp of caster sugar
For the braised chicory:
3-4 heads of chicory, leaves sliced lengthways 
2 tbsp caster sugar 
2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar 
1 garlic clove, finely chopped 
3 tbsp olive oil
For the dressing:
1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar 
1 tsp Dijon mustard 
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
A squeeze of lemon juice
To finish:
2 tbsp pine nuts 
1 handful rocket leaves

Start by hot-smoking the seatrout. Mix the honey with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Pour onto a plate and use to coat the seatrout slices all over. Line a heavy baking tray with foil and line the bottom with the sugar, rice and thyme sprigs. Place a rack above so that it sits an inch or two above. Seal the top with a large sheet of foil. Set onto a medium-high heat, and when it starts smoking, place the seatrout onto the rack. Replace the foil and allow to smoke for about 10 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked through. Transfer to a plate and set aside. 

For the date puree, pop the dates into a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave for 10-15 minutes to soften, then transfer to a small food processor with the lemon juice, caster sugar and some salt and pepper. Blend well, and with the motor still running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Thin out with a little more boiling water if needed. Transfer into a plastic bottle.
Set a large frying pan onto a medium heat. Add a good glug of olive oil, then tip in the chicory, sugar and garlic. Allow to fry and lightly caramelise for a couple of minutes, then drizzle over the balsamic vinegar. Turn the heat down and gently cook for another 5 minutes or so, until the chicory has softened and the vinegar has reduced. Season well and stir in another tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. 

While the chicory is braising, make the dressing. Pour the vinegar and lemon juice into a small bowl and stir in the mustard and a bit of seasoning. Slowly incorporate the oil with a whisk until well emulsified. Taste and add more seasoning, lemon or vinegar if necessary.
Finally pan-fry the seatrout fillets. Heat a non-stick frying pan up to a medium-high temperature and add a good glug of oil. Season the fillets well and cook skin-side down for 3-4 minutes. Use a spoon to baste the tops of the fillets well with the hot oil. Turn the fillets over and take the pan off the heat; the residual heat will finish the cooking.
To plate up, spoon some of the braised chicory onto each plate and add a piece of the hot-smoked fish to one side. Dot on a few blobs of the date puree. Position a pan-fried fillet on top, and scatter around some of the rocket leaves and pine nuts. Finish with a good amount of the dressing.

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