Simon Hopkinson cooks with sea trout

Ah… lovely, lovely sea trout, which is well into its summer season and a treat indeed. This is the wild fish, naturally, and with a true, delicate flavour that is unique. When smaller fish (to generously feed two, say) are dusted with flour, then quietly fried in the finest butter and finished with lemon juice and parsley, I know of few other fish dishes that will excite me more at this time of year.

Larger specimens, occasionally reaching the size of a medium-size wild salmon, are best either filleted or cooked as steaks (or darnes). A rich hollandaise or white butter sauce (beurre blanc) would, I think, fit the bill admirably with these larger cuts.

When I was cooking in West Wales in the mid 1970s, the sea trout there were known as sewin -and remain so. These fine fish would regularly arrive at the back door of my little one-man restaurant near Fishguard with sea lice still attached to the skin -as good a sign as any that they hadn’t been long out of the water.

Interestingly, during the sweltering heat of that exhausting summer of 1976, I don’t think any sewin I cooked were served other than cold, with mayonnaise and Pembrokeshire new potatoes boiled with plenty of mint.

One dish I did prepare using sewin-and when the weather was less oppressive-used a classic method of contemporary English cookery (although inspired by a much older recipe): salmon baked in pastry, created by George Perry-Smith. He first served this at his famous Hole in the Wall restaurant in Bath during the 1960s, then took it with him to The Riverside in the Helford estuary, Cornwall, once the legendary Hole had passed into new hands.

Curiously, this would have been around about the same time I was starting out on my own a couple of hundred miles due north. However, I still like to think that he would have approved of the sewin substitution all those years ago by a keen 21-year-old disciple, toiling away in his tiny Welsh kitchen.

Fillets of sea trout baked in pastry with currants and ginger, sauce messine

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

For the pastry

100g cold butter
150g plain flour
Pinch of salt
2tbspn ice-cold water
For the salmon
400g sea trout fillet, skinned and
boned
Salt and freshly ground white
pepper
2 small globes stem ginger in syrup, chopped
25g currants
50g softened butter
Beaten egg, for glazing

For the sauce messine

1 egg yolk
Half a teaspoon Dijon mustard
Half a teaspoon each of freshly
chopped chervil, tarragon and parsley
1 shallot, very finely chopped
40g unsalted butter, softened
175ml double cream
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and a pinch of cayenne
pepper

Method

To make the pastry, cut the butter into small chunks and place them in a large bowl with the flour and salt. Gently rub the fat into the flour using fingertips until the texture resembles very coarse breadcrumbs (you may wish to use a food processor to do this). Mix in just enough water to bind the mixture together. Lightly knead the dough until well amalgamated, dust with flour and slip into
a plastic bag. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes before using.

Preheat the oven to 220˚C/gas mark 7.

To make the sauce messine, first beat together the egg yolks and mustard in a bowl. Add the herbs, shallots, butter and cream and whisk together. Now, place the bowl over barely simmering water and stir continuously until the sauce thickens to the consistency of custard. Squeeze in the lemon juice and season.

Keep warm on the side of the stove or over a bowl of tap-hot water.

In a small bowl, mix together the ginger, currants and soft-ened butter. Cut the sea trout into two equal pieces across the grain of the flesh, and season. Sandwich the two pieces together with the ginger/currant/butter mixture. Roll out the pastry until about 3mm-4mm thick, place the fish in the middle, then brush beaten egg all around the exposed pastry.

Fold the pastry over the fish, press together and then carefully turn it over so that the seal is underneath.

Brush the surface of this package with egg-wash, tuck in the ends, trim off any excess and then seal together with the tines of a fork. Put on to a lightly greased baking sheet and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden and crisp.

Cut into thick slices using a sharp, serrated knife and serve with the sauce messine spooned alongside.

Sea trout with oysters, cucumber, butter and chives

Serves 2

Another favourite pairing here, as well as also having a particularly English feel about it. Hot cucumbers and lightly poached oysters, snipped chives and plenty of buttery juices to anoint just a little more of this delect-able sea trout.

Ingredients

6 rock oysters, shucked and juices reserved
25g unsalted butter
100ml dry vermouth
Half a medium cucumber, peeled
2 x 150g-175g fillets of sea trout,
skin and bone removed
1tbspn snipped chives
Freshly ground white pepper
A little extra butter
Squeeze of lemon juice

Method

Pour the reserved oyster juices through a fine sieve (to collect any stray shell particles) into
a deep frying pan and add the butter and vermouth. Bring up to a simmer and quietly cook for 3-4 minutes until lightly emulsified.

Cut the cucumber in half lengthways, scrape out the seeds and discard, then thinly slice into tiny half-moons and add to the emulsion.

Place the sea trout fillets upon the cucumber, cover the pan and allow the fish to ‘steam’ over a very low heat for about five minutes, until both cucumber and fish are just cooked, with the latter remaining blush pink within.

Remove the fish to two warmed plates and cover with foil. Add the shucked oysters to the pan, turn up the heat a little and cook until the oysters have stiffened somewhat and become plump from the heat; no more than a minute or two.

Stir in the chives and pepper, swirl in a little more butter and spoon over the sea trout, allowing three oysters per serving. Finally, add a spritz of lemon juice and serve forthwith.

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