Whole trout were the first fish I ever placed on a grill, and they're still the first meal that comes to mind when I think of open-fire seafood. Filled with herbs, garlic, and olive oil, grilled trout turn supple and smoky over the flame. In The River Cottage Fish Book, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nick Fisher offer a slight variation on the standard stuff-the-trout-with-herbs-and-grill-it method of which I am familiar. Instead of picking soft, delicate herbs, they call for overgrown, wild fennel. Then, they not only place the floral, herbaceous plant into the fish cavity (with garlic and bay, of course), but also use the woodiest herbs as a kind of grate for cooking the fish. These woody stems smolder as the fish cooks, adding another layer of smoky flavor to the fish.
Why I picked this recipe: My love for grilled trout is unabashed, but what really sealed the deal was the opportunity to do a little urban foraging in my neighborhood for the wild fennel. (This stuff grows like weeds in Northern California.)
What worked: Whole trout really shines when grilled over high heat; the slowly smoldering fennel took the fish to the next level.
What didn't: Wouldn't change a thing...
Suggested tweaks: ...But if you're one to futz, the fennel could be swapped out for any woody, overgrown herbs.
Reprinted with permission from The River Cottage Fish Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nick Fisher. Copyright 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Available wherever books are sold. All rights reserved.
- A bundle of overgrown fennel sticks, flower heads and all
- 4 trout or red mullet, gutted
- 4 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
- 4 bay leaves
- Olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Take four 4-inch (10cm) lengths of the freshest fennel sticks and bash them with a rolling pin to release their flavor. Put a piece inside each fish, along with a crushed garlic clove, a bay leaf, and some seasoning. Lightly brush the fish with oil and season the skin–do this generously, as the cooking will burn off a lot of the seasoning.
Spread the rest of the fennel sticks on the grate over a hot, ready-for-cooking fire. Lay the fish over the steaming fennel stems. As the fish cook, the fennel will first steam and then burn, infusing the fish with its flavor. Cook for 6 to 7 minutes on each side, until the skin is crisp and the flesh opaque.
Serve steaming hot, with minted new potatoes and a salad–a dish of paper thin slices of fennel bulb, dressed with orange juice and olive oil, will echo and enhance the fennel notes in the fish.