Despite its restaurant-quality presentation, Linton Hopkins' Sauteed Georgia Trout with Watercress Puree and Mandarin Salad featured in Adam Roberts' Secrets of the Best Chefs, is a relative breeze to prepare (for a cheffy dish) and worth any extra minute of effort.
The trout is simply salted and seared skin-side down for a crisp crust and barely-cooked flesh. A puree of watercress, leeks, and cream forms the base of the dish, and the whole kaboodle gets topped with a bright, bracing salad of mandarin oranges, fennel, dill, radish, and parsley. It's a beautiful plate of food, and tastes even better than it looks.
Why I picked this recipe: Mandarins are hitting their prime these days, and they anchor this sophisticated trout dish beautifully.
What worked: Everything on the plate screams balance; the sweet acidity of the mandarins and the bitter edge to the watercress lightens the creamy puree and rich trout flesh.
What didn't: Nothing. This dish was elegant Southern cooking at its finest.
Suggested tweaks: You could absolutely tweak the elements of the salad and puree to suit the season, but be sure to keep in mind the tenuous balance between acid and fat in the dish. The dish as written is easy to prepare in stages as well. Hold off on adding the mandarins and salt to the salad until serving and gently re-warm the puree before plating. Sear the fish at the last minute, of course.
Reprinted with permission from Secrets of the Best Chefs by Adam Roberts, copyright 2012. Published by Artisan, a division of Workman Publishing. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- Yield:serves 4
- Active time: 45 minutes
- Total time:45 minutes
- For the Watercress Puree
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 large leek, cleaned and cut into rings
- 1/2 cup heavy cream, plus more if necessary
- Kosher salt
- 1 head of watercress, cleaned, roots chopped off
- Juice of 1 lemon
- For the Mandarin Salad
- 2 small mandarin oranges, cut into supremes
- 1/4 cup whole parsley leaves
- 1/4 cup chopped dill
- 1/4 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
- 1 radish, thinly sliced
- A pinch of salt
- For the Trout
- 4 trout fillets, skin on, bones removed
- Kosher salt
- Canola, vegetable, or other neutral oil
To make the watercress puree, melt the butter in a pan along with the bay leaf and when the butter’s thoroughly melted, add the leeks. Cook them gently on medium-low heat for 5 minutes or so. When the leeks are nice and soft, add the cream and season with salt. Bring the cream to a boil and remove the bay leaf. Add the watercress and stir to coat. If it’s not coated, add more cream while the pan is still on the boil.
When the watercress has wilted slightly after just a minute or two, add the watercress and most of the liquid to a blender. Carefully blend (cover the hole in the lid with a towel) and adjust the consistency: it should be almost soupy. If it’s not, add more of the remaining liquid. Add the lemon juice, blend one more time, then taste for seasoning. Set aside.
For the mandarin salad, simply toss all the ingredients together in a large bowl, adjust for salt, and set aside.
Finally, run your finger along the length of the trout to check for bones. If you find bones, use pliers or your fingers to remove them carefully.
Season the fish on both sides with salt. Heat 2 cast-iron skillets on high heat until very hot. Add a splash of oil and then 2 trout fillets per pan, skin side down, and press the fish into the pan with your hands or a spatula.
Cook until the trout is almost completely opaque and the skin is crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. To finish, carefully flip the fish over and cook for a few seconds on the flesh side.
Spoon the watercress puree onto 4 plates. Top with the trout and then pile the salad over it. Serve immediately.