Tickled trout

It’s Saturday morning and I’ve made it to Alsace. Splendid. Here, the kitchen table groans with abundance. Charcuterie and a multitude of pork products trace their heritage to the 16th century. Wow. Like the Strasbourg sausage whose ancestor was the knackwurst. As a borderland with Germany there’s knoblauchwurst, leberwurst, mettwurst and Choucroute or sauerkraut, to name a few. In fact it was a region that changed hands repeatedly between what is now France and Germany. Alsatian cuisine also excels with the soft texture of its freshwater fish, creating all manner of fish purée quenelles, mousses and pâtés. And they’re champions of Pâtisserie with their Kougelhopf, rhubarb and bilberry pastries, beignets, spiced sweet breads and chocolate discs studded with dried fruit and nuts. They have it all. They do it all. They eat it all.

No Quiche Lorraine today though. The dish was Truite au Riesling. Stuffed with Duxelles, poached in Riesling wine, and served with a Riesling butter sauce and Fleuron. A Fleuron is a puff pastry crescent. Getting flashy with accompaniments. In case you’re familiar with the poacher’s technique of tickling trout, I can assure you these fishies were procured in an entirely above-board manner. Yes they were poached. But no poachers were involved.

The trout were prepared differently to last time. I had to belly fillet them. Rather than separately removing each fillet from the skeleton, the skeleton had to be extracted from the flesh leaving the whole fish intact. Great fun. Loved it. The fish were then opened up and stuffed with Duxelles along one side of the belly, leaving a 1cm gap at the edge to allow the fish to seal again when closed. The fish were closed up, restoring it to its usual look—minus the head, and was poached in butter, Riesling wine and shallots with a cartouche on top.

Getting the cooked fish out of the pan was a more delicate operation than extracting the funny bone in the game Operation. The last thing I wanted was for the fish to break up or to spill its stuffing. For presentation the skin was tickled off with the tip of a knife, leaving just 4 cm at the tail on each side. Then the brown meat was very carefully scraped away from the pink flesh with a teaspoon. Fortunately it came away easily. A quick brush tidied everything up. At Le Cordon Bleu, there’s a law when it comes to presenting fish—as the plate faces you, the head points left, and the tail points right. The poaching liquor was passed through a chinois and returned to the stove where double cream was added, and more butter to finish. Quite delicious.

Chef said my trout was cooked how he likes it but some would say it’s slightly under in the middle. A few more bastes were needed for bang on. My Fleuron was good but the water evaporated when reheating my green beans leaving them alone in just butter. Doh.

Trout stuffed with Duxelles

The big mistake some of us made was running order. We opted to get all the garniture done first, including the Duxelles. Chef did the fish first. This resulted in a late service. I need to think about how the time was lost because I thought my filleting was done within the estimated time. Maybe there was too much fun being had trying to turn mushrooms. What a palava.

Sometimes the ingredients provided in the kitchen aren’t ideal for the dish. This was the case with our mushrooms—99% of them were about the size of a penny or smaller. We had no chance of practicing our turning technique on these, though chef did prove it was possible. Chef did manage to obtain more appropriately sized fungi. My first attempts either peeled the mushroom or put divots in it. When I thought I was starting to get the feel of it, albeit very inconsistently, chef asked if I was left-handed. No, but my Mum is. Apparently, somehow, I’m turning a mushroom like a lefty. Chef watched me for a minute. Then, to show my muscles the correct forces and actions…well, it was like that scene from Ghost and I was Demi Moore. Practice needed at home.

Tiny turned mushroom by chef

Turning massive mushrooms at home

In demo, chef made a Tarte Flambée otherwise known as a Flammekeuche. Not a flatbread, nor a pizza. It’s a thin-crusted flamed tart with fromage blanc, crème fraiche, double cream, egg yolks, onion and lardons. Fromage blanc is cream cheese. The dough is a basic yeast dough. I’m familiar with these things in Austria and Germany, except they’re called flammkuchen. Not a million miles away. So good.