Prequels, Sequels, and Portmanteaux…

We’re going to celebrate trout, showcase trout, and trout will perform in several different formats, complete with 8X10 glossies. We will trot out our trout until the trout runs out.

And judging by the size of the package that I bought at the big box store the other day, that might take a while. Because excessive package size is  the average sale maximizing strategy of big box retailers.

Warehouse retailers charge less per chicken breast, for example, than typical grocery chains. They harvest a slightly lower profit percentage, per breast; logically, they do this by purchasing in gigantic quantities. But where they really cash in is through large average sale frequency. They have actually figured out a way to get us to buy a BIG basket of stuff just as often as we used to by a NORMAL basket of stuff.

That package of Q-Tips is gonna last longer than I do

Retailers know that if people buy a package of 20 Q-Tips, they will use them sparingly, like thrifty Q-Tip ANTS in some imaginary Aesop’s fable. But if people buy a million Q-Tips at once, they turn into Aesop’s Q-Tip GRASSHOPPERS, showing no consideration of what may come tomorrow. If a few should spill while we reach into the Kleenex sized box, who cares? Who’s going to notice? I’ll pick them up later! And there go the savings.

Big box retailers also purposely package chicken breasts in amounts that are too large for most families to finish before they get sick of chicken breasts. Not just chicken breasts, either. Pork chops. Hamburger. Ribs. I know. Shocking.

They know that if people get served chicken breasts at home more than 2.27 times/week, (my whimsical calculation), they will rebel and secretly grab a burger on the way home, creating a poultry usage vacuum at home. The more we waste at home, the more money they make.

WHAT? WHY?

Newsflash. Retailers don’t care what happens to that chicken after you buy it. They don’t care how many chicken breasts you need. They just want to sell enough to achieve their sales volume goals. And they know you are not going to be sick of chicken for long.

As sick of chicken breasts as you are on Tuesday, in ten days you will be back for more, just as soon as ribs, ground beef, and pork chops have taken their turn at earning your jaded scorn. They are managing to REPEATEDLY sell their products in amounts that generate high average sales/purchase.  Meanwhile, we congratulate ourselves on saving $.40/lb. on hamburger that Mom is gonna end up trashing the last third of without our knowledge. Brilliant!

Here’s snooping at you, kids…

Doing sous vide as much as I do, preventing spoilage is easier. Sous vide teaches us what causes spoilage, and how to avoid it. I always wondered how other people managed to burn through all that stuff before it went bad. As it turns out, THEY DON’T.

“We can always freeze some,” I hear people say to each other as they hoist that gigantic tray of whatever into the oversized basket. Oh, you mean the freezer that’s already crammed full of who knows what that’s never gonna get eaten? The big box retailers don’t care if we freeze it, either. Research has concluded that food stored in our freezers is much less likely to be consumed than food that was purchased recently. The food in our freezers is really just garbage that hasn’t made it to the curb yet.

We’re going to need two carts if we get dog food AND toilet paper

Buying food for a restaurant takes planning, and chefs and managers and buyers learn it or fail real quick. If you shop at a big box store, you should be planning just what you’re going to do with all those steaks. That’s right, STEAKS. Some of those packages of steaks are big enough, the last one just isn’t going to have the same appeal as the first one. You think about that. Do you really want steak every day, or even two days in a row?  “Steak AGAIN? Don’t we have any chicken breasts?” Priceless.

How do we avoid falling into this cleverly laid trap? The answer lies in our understanding of the term “leftovers.” What is the difference between properly prepared/stored food and leftovers?

“Leftovers” are the result of miscalculating how much we were going to eat for dinner. These are the things that get shoved in the fridge with no cover and migrate to the back of the bottom shelf, only to be discovered days later in an unrecognizable state.

Winning

If the leftovers are protected from contamination, and refrigerated properly, they are identical to “foods prepared in advance.” Wholesome. Safe. Delicious! ADAPTABLE.  Students of sous vide processing discover this, because they learn about food preservation as a result of learning about sous vide cooking. The scales fall from our eyes, the realization dawns upon us. Safety, wholesomeness, deliciousness are all governed by the atmosphere and temperature that food is exposed to, whether intentional or otherwise. ALL food.

So, when I bring home 20 boneless skinlesses from the store, I don’t hurry up and start eating them so they don’t go bad. I just sous vide ALL of them. Individually, or maybe two to a package. I know they will keep at least two weeks, and I might like to share some later with my neighbors who trim my trees and roll out the garbage can to help me out. That’s the first step to beating them at their own game.

SEGUE TO GO SMOKE A FISH

I’ve been using cold start to avoid exposure to the toxicity of smoke. Some of you may know I have a debilitating breathing disorder, but avoiding smoke is a good preventative measure for all of us. People who die in fires don’t burn up until after “they already dead.” They die of smoke inhalation. And smoke is smoke. Not all barbecue equipment can utilize cold start, esp. if you use charcoal. That’s why I pulled the trigger on the PID pellet grill.

Pellet grills heat up pretty fast, and produce less CO and NO than charcoal. If you use a hot start, you can probably subtract about a half hour from your cooking time. That being said, you might want to brace yourself. The calculated, prescribed time and temperature for processing in a hot smoker, bbq, etc. is just short of irrelevant. Most barbecues oscillate between 180Fand 400F as a result of our ceremonial and gratuitous lifting of the lid and poking at the uncooperative fuel. This makes it almost impossible to actually establish a standardized procedure. There’s just too many moving parts.

Does anybody really know what time it is?

Let me ask you this. How much beer has been consumed, how much fuel has been wasted, in the name of “monitoring” the progress of the food in the barbecue? Any learned skill at determining the doneness of foods without regard to time and external temperature is invaluable. And pitmasters have that, you can bet on it. That, and a thermometer.

The good news is a few minutes too little, and even a while too long won’t matter if the following procedure is adhered to. We are going to cook ALL  the fish, as part of our waste avoidance strategy. This is based on the assumption that cooked trout will keep better than raw trout. Which it will.

’tis the seasoning

After seasoning generously with this little salt mix I keep modifying, the fish are positioned UPSIDE DOWN in the racks. This is not done to make them more comfortable–they are already dead. The cavity of the fish secretes juices during the process of cooking. They drain out if the fish is right side up, or even on its side. If it’s upside down, there is actually enough to make it worth saving. You see, I’m already opening the vault!

Procedure and ingredients:

July 20: Day One

We brought everything home from the store, and put it all away. That, in itself, is exhausting for me. The first trout will be served tomorrow. That’s one day “old” already. I prepped the potatoes in the afternoon, so I had them ready for tomorrow. I slept.

July 21: Day Two

  • Trout. We started with three normal sized, and one gigantic one. Usually, the packs contain 5 fish, 5 or 6 lbs.
  • Beurre Monte, one recipe.
  • Mille-Feuille Potatoes (or equivalent), one recipe.
  • Fresh lemons.
  • S+P, to taste.

I smoked all the trout in my RecTec Pellet Grill @

250F/124Cx1 hour and 15 minutes,
(from a cold start).

While the fish were smoking, I made the butter sauce and seared the potatoes. After the duration had elapsed, the trout comes out of the smoker; it will cool and firm in just a few minutes. Remove the dividing racks, and vacuum or Ziploc seal ALL the trout, just as if you were going to process them sous vide. You’re not, of course.

Decide how much you’re going to eat TODAY. Cold shock the rest to 70F/21C and refrigerate @40F/4C.

In the picture above, you can see juice that collected in the cavity. Boning trout is pretty easy after you’ve done it a thousand times. Squeamishness, anxiety and haste ruin more presentations than lack of skill. Using a spoon and clean fingers, remove the head, the tail, and peel back the skin in one piece if possible. Running along that center line, pull the fish away from the bone. Or, let everybody do it themselves.

The skin will not be crisp at this point, because of time spent in the bag. I save some large pieces of skin for an application later. The steam in the bag will actually strengthen the skin; your intention should be to remove the skin in one piece, even though that is not necessary.

The bone is clearly visible, waiting to be removed. Using your thumb and index finger, grab the bone at one end of the fish and gently pull up. I like to start at the head end. Watch what you’re doing, go slow, and you will see if the meat tries to stick to the bone here or there. Use the spoon to loosen the bone from the flesh if this happens. You can see how I kind of “bent” the spine as I removed it, this prevents the meat from sticking. I think. There must be a reason I do it!

Use the spoon to sort out random fin and collar bones that migrate around. My wife doesn’t eat the skin, so I rolled hers up and used it to divide the two filets on my plate. I relented, though, and ended up saving it for later. Stay tuned for how that came out…

Lemon, some Mille-Feuille Potatoes, Beurre Monte, this is a basic, standard, first day presentation right? The hard part is getting people to eat trout again TOMORROW. The good news is, well, you don’t have to. Since the rest of the trout has already been processed, it will be good for at least four more days, as long as your refrigerator is functioning properly.

A Separate Appetite

I ate the big fish, no problem there. My wife’s appetite is more bird-like, so she only ate half of her trout. She knows what she’s doing, though, and she sealed it in an appropriate plastic container. Smoked trout is even smokier cold than hot off the grill. I looked forward to having that half trout for my lunch, which she usually skips.

July 23: Lunch, Day 3

There is no shame in chips. I make my own potato chips, but I really kind of like Fritos. I know. Total hack. Long story. Anyway, I whipped some cream cheese in the Kitchenaid mixer to soften it up. I then used the chips to scrape up a tiny bit of the cheese, and laid the chips on a plate. After the plate was full, I carefully broke up the “leftover” trout into flakes and put it on the cream cheese. S+P, little green, parsley, chervil, whatever, lemon slice and some smoked paprika.

Accounting. We have consumed two trout; two to go.

 July 24: Lunch, Day 4

Remove one of the chilled trout from the vacuum or Ziploc package. Sealed, it is protected from foreign objects, and the dry air of a refrigerator. The peel is easy to remove, again, squeamishness the biggest obstacle. I’m not that skilled. I’m PATIENT. With fish, anyway. Dust the outside of the skin lightly with flour, and both sides of the trout.

Beat one egg WELL, so it is smooth enough to brush or smear onto one side of the floured fish. Remember, this fish is COOKED; painting instead of trying to dip the whole fish will prevent it from breaking apart.

The skin of our trout

Sprinkle/pour fine bread crumbs over the fish, gently roll it over, paint and sprinkle again. LET IT REST for a few minutes, to give the breading time to cling. In the mean time, toast/fry the skin. Floured side down on medium to high heat with a few drops of oil in the pan, as shown. It’s easy. Give it time to get fully crisp on the first side before flipping, and then just a few seconds on the other side. Lay the skin on the middle of a large plate, with the outside facing up.

Like this:Fry the trout in 1/2″ of vegetable oil on medium heat. The oil must be deep enough to sizzle its way up the sides of the fish. Breading requires more oil than sauteeing, that’s just the way it is. Remember–flip carefully.

When the trout is brown, the trout is done.

Put the fish on the skin, as shown. Run a spoon down the middle just like we did the other day, and pull the filets outwards. You will see that their texture is almost exactly the same as it was the first time we did them, even though this time they were already  “cooked.” This is the result of proper handling the first time around.

Peel the bone back, just like we did before, practice makes perfect!

Look for any visible small bones, and then fold the filets back on top.

Cut off that large piece of skin in front of the fish, fold or roll it, and stand it up behind the fish. I made some remoulade, quick like, with mayonnaise, lemon juice, capers, parsley, and a little S+P, it’s that easy. Lunch for me.

Any chef would be proud to serve trout looking and tasting like this. But don’t let yourself think that restaurants do this routinely, as some sort of short cut. Soigné gentleness is required. Most cooks are more likely to just kind of hurl things in the deep fryer, in the pan, in the oven, and even AT the occasional server.

The French word “soigné” appears frequently in reference to the finer sensibilities of detail oriented restaurants. And for good reason. Soigné means “meticulous.” Believe me, it is a rare commodity. Very valuable.

July 25: Breakfast, Day 5–Headliners

I wanted to save the hardest for last. After all, we’re trying to prove that food needn’t be viewed as “degraded” just because it wasn’t cooked TODAY.  One thing is for sure: The trout wasn’t any BETTER on day 1 than it was on day 4. It sure was a lot EASIER, though. 

Everybody knows fish is fragile. Most of us know it’s more durable raw than it is cooked–unless it’s tuna in a can, I guess. Broiled fish is difficult enough that most places either won’t do it, or fake it and call it broiled when it’s really either salamandered or griddled. There’s a lot of ignorant confusion about the difference between “grilled” and “broiled.” A grilled fish should not be done the same way as a grilled cheese. I usually ignore those terms when I see them on menus, unless I see a guy operating some kind of pit with a grate. Even then, they usually confine its use to steaks and burgers. Let’s face it, fish is a pain to broil. So, that’s what we’re going to do!

Remove the skin from the fish just like we did before.

You pull back the first side, and then hold the skin down while you roll the fish away from it. Gold!

 Make sure the pan is hot–350F/176C. There is no shame in Pam, spray a little in the pan and wipe it out with a dry towel. Do the skin.

Smack dab in the middle of the plate. Spray and rub again, and add the fish. You can see the diagonal of the fish against the diagonal of the grates, that’s how you get the nice hash marks. It’s not necessary to do it on the second side, but I do because of force of habit.

Hey, the fish didn’t fall apart. I almost forgot it was already cooked.

Boning the fish, same thing. Run down the middle with the spoon, push the filets apart, exposing the bone. This is almost becoming routine.Out comes the bone.

I confess, my station is not always “soigné.” The lemon star, I put a little hash browns on there–after all, it’s breakfast. I browned a little butter…little parsley…

Now, I ask you: Does this look like a leftover?I guess people call this showing some respect for the food.

That’s about as good as it gets, you know?

Norm