Whole fish rank pretty high on the list of ingredients that are intimidating to work with when I’m cooking by myself. This isn’t the first time fresh whole fish have been featured here–when in New York we had more than our fair share of sardines and mackerel–but this was the first time I went at it on my own, using a new-to-me recipe because I’ve been on this ambitious cooking streak since we’ve gotten back from Spain. My trepidation in making this dish was actually three-fold:
- Was one fish enough for two people?
- The fish I did buy would not fit well into our only nonstick pan.
- I would overcook the fish. I prefer an ever-so-slightly underdone fish to overdone fish, because if it’s really an issue it can be reheated again. Overcooked fish tastes like cat food to me, and I really wasn’t in a mood to waste the $9 or so I spent on this lovely trout.
For the most part, my fears were unfounded as I was not only able to successfully cook this fish, Michael even declared it to be the best whole fish he’s ever had. I don’t credit my skills on that front, but rather the ingeniousness of the preparation.
The idea behind this recipe is that you cover the flesh of the fish with ham prior to cooking, as this will baste the fish when you place it down in the hot non-stick pan. You then flip it and sear the skin-side for a few minutes before removing the fish from the pan. The sauce is just olive oil, garlic, fresh chiles, and some sherry vinegar mixed in the pan that comes together very quickly and then is poured over the fish. Since trout is relatively mild in taste it works very well with the pop of heat from the pepper, the burst of acidity from the vinegar, and the saltiness of the ham.
The only deviations I made from the recipe posted on Food and Wine was using a whole fish rather than fillets and prosciutto rather than jamón serrano. It’s much easier to get a whole trout at Fairway compared to individual fillets, and since the fishmonger did most of the cleaning, all I needed to do was gently run a knife down the middle to allow the fish to lay flat. As for the ham…well, I couldn’t bring myself to spend money on delicious serrano that would only be crisped up in the pan, so I found a less-expensive prosciutto that worked very well in its stead.
So did I conquer my fears? The single fish was more than enough for the two of us (thankfully common sense and a lovely quinoa salad prevented me from spending over $20 on fish), the fish did fit into the pan (although the tail did poke out), and the fish was not overdone.
The only downside? Having to watch out for pinbones. Eh, you can’t win them all.
Pan-Seared Trout with Serrano Ham and Chile-Garlic Oil
adapted from Food and Wine
- One whole trout, head removed and cleaned
- Kosher salt
- 4 oz of sliced prosciutto or serrano
- Olive oil (1/4 cup for the sauce, 2 tablespoons for the fish)
- 6 garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 fresh red chile, sliced thin
- 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Lay the fish on a cutting board, and using a fillet knife or other small, flexible knife gently slice along one side of the spine of the fish to open it up and allow the fish to lie flat. Season with salt and cover with the slices of ham. In the largest nonstick skillet you have, heat the two tablespoons of olive oil over moderately high heat and add the fish, ham-side down. Cook for about three minutes or so until the ham is crisp, and then carefully flip and cook for another 3 minutes or so. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Make the sauce: add the remaining olive oil and cook the garlic on moderate heat until golden. Add the chile and cook for another minute, then add the sherry vinegar and parsley and a little more salt and remove from heat. Spoon over the fish and serve immediately.