Saturday night, Mark and I headed over to Westwood to catch a sneak preview of the new Disney/Pixar animated film Ratatouille, which if you haven't seen the trailer, check it out. For anyone who loves food, and let's be honest, if you're reading this, chances are you do, you have to run out and see the film. The story centers around a rat with an extraordinary sense of smell who yearns to become a great Parisian chef. He teams up with an incompetent garbage boy at one of the city's formerly grand but faded fine dining establishments and together, they revive the restaurant's reputation. The restaurant's current head chef finds the whole situation suspicious as does cities leading food critic.
The movie is astonishingly well crafted and rendered and apparently the film makers ever did considerable research to make sure the dishes in the restaurant felt authentic. They even brought on Thomas Keller, he of French Laundry, Bouchon and Per Say, as the food consultant.
Needless to say, by the time the movie was over, Mark and I were both jonesing for some bistro fare and I especially just wanted to get in the kitchen. Once we returned home, I broke out my copy of the Bouchon Cookbook, (what better place to start) to look for inspiration. So here's the thing about Mr. Keller's cookbook. While exquisitely beautiful, like a coffee table book, many of the recipe are quite time consuming. Even when flipping through and coming across a recipe that features only a dozen or so ingredients, several of those ingredients, like fennel confit, soffrito, or red wine jus, can take 2 to 4 hours to make. That's in ADDITION to the cooking time of the original dish. Ya know, Mr. Keller, some of us don't have an army of sous chefs, constantly making up batches of fish fumet and white veal stock for use whenever. Although there is one blogger out there that is making a go of it.
This recipe is one of the few in the book that doesn't take days to complete, although Mark and I did have to go to 6 different bakeries looking for Brioche. (Every place we went were out of it) So let me just say, if you can't find it, just use day old French bread. It won't be exactly the same, but it will be good enough.
3 large lemons
4 10-ounce boned whole rainbow trout, heads and tails cut off (have your fish monger do this)
8 ounces haricot verts, stem ends trimmed
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup capers
1/2 cup 1/4 inch cubes of bread, preferably day-old Brioche baked in a 350 degree oven until golden
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
First, we need to segment or "supreme" the lemons. Do we all know how to do this? If not, observe. Cut the top and bottom off one of the lemons. Stand it up on one of the cut ends and following then curve of the lemon cut away the peel and pith in wide strips, from top to bottom.
Continue cutting away the skin and pith, working your way around the lemon.
Then cut between the little white lines, which are the membranes to release the "supremes" or lemon segments. See?
If any of the segments have seeds, just pick them out. Again, work your way around the whole lemon and place the segments in a bowl. Give the remaining membranes a squeeze to release the last of the juice and then repeat the whole process with the other two lemons and set aside. Trust me it's not that hard. You just need a nice sharp knife.
Next the trout needs to be dressed. With some sturdy kitchen scissors cut away the dorsal fin along the back of each fish. Then cut away each pectoral fin, which is the one closest to the head.
Now move on to the haricot verts. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and fill a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes. Once the water comes to a boil, add a small handful of salt and toss in the haricot verts and blanch for anywhere between 2 to 6 minutes. Keep tasting them until they are just barely tender but still have a little bite. Drain the beans and then plunge into the ice bath to stop the cooking. Drain the beans again and then set aside. The beans can be blanched several hours or even a day or two ahead of time.
Spread each trout open and season the inside with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and swirl in some canola oil. Place the trout in the pan, skin side down and saute for about 4 minutes on one side only. It might look like it's not quite cooked, but the hot ingredients that will top each fish will complete the cooking.
Meanwhile, put the beans in another saute pan, add 2 tablespoons of butter and 1/3 cup of water and place over medium heat. Heat, stirring occasionally until the water has evaporated and the beans are hot and glazed with the butter.
But this point, the fish should be done. Place each trout on a plate and top with some of the glazed haricot verts. In the pan the beans were heated in, add the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter and and heat, stirring every so often until the butter browns. Add the capers and and croutons and fry for a minute. Turn off the heat and add the lemon segments and a pinch of the parsley.
To finish, spoon some of the brown butter, croutons, capers and lemon segments over the haricot verts and trout on each plate. Add a little more parsley and a grinding of black pepper and serve.
I have to admit, I was somewhat nervous as I was preparing this dish. I always feel slightly overwhelmed when I am cooking more than one thing at a time, both of which need supervision and should be finished at the same time. However my little worries were for naught. The dish came out beautifully. The mild trout was cooked perfectly. I love the method of cooking it only on one side and then letting the heat from the beans cook it the rest of the way. So smart. Plus you don't risk breaking the delicate fish during flipping. Naturally, flavors like butter, lemon and capers compliment fish so well, but the little twists like segmenting the lemons, browning the butter and adding toasted yet soft Brioche croutons really made a simple pan fried fish into something more sophisticated. The way the flavors and textures work together is really nice too. The brightness of the lemon and briney capers cut through the richness of the butter, while the haricot verts and croutons give the dish two very different yet complimentary crunches.
I served the meal with another recipe from the book, the Bouchon house salad, which is an elaborate affair of an entire head of butter lettuce dressed with a simple vinaigrette made from red wine vinegar, dijon mustard and canola oil and then scattered with minced shallot and a melange of fresh and Frenchy herbs.