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Middle East Meets Fish

Posted Aug 04 2009 5:28pm

A s I mentioned before, part of my inspiration comes from watching other chefs do their thing, be it merely by presentation or the specific ingredient. In actuality, this recipe was inspired by a concept that I have seen more often than not in regarding fish preparation: crusting the fish. Nut crusting and herb crusting is a standard when it comes to giving a nutty earthy flavor as opposed to the standard cornmeal coating or basic dredging. Due to the fact that I’m contributing this recipe to the Vidalia Onion contest, I decided to crust the fish in dried onion flakes. Yes, I dried them myself with my Aroma dehydrator, which (luckily) means I can double enter this recipe in two contests. My dehydrator, I don’t use very often, except for fresh herbs, occasionally apple chips, and a few other minor recipes. Way back when I tried the raw diet, I toyed with some interesting ideas but I swiftly discovered raw foods were not for me. I enjoy them, but, I don’t like preparing them. It is a little more complicated than the standard prep practices, meaning the vegetables, fruits, and nuts usually have to be sliced, diced, and chopped extremely miniscule. At the time I didn’t have a mandolin (which I do have a spiffy one now) and that made matters worse because I wasn’t skilled enough to slice each piece of eggplant, beet, and so forth paper thin.

The method of drying onions is easy peasy. The only downside is, if you hate onions (although if you did I don’t comprehend why you would be dehydrating them) the aroma gets fruitful. Other than that, all you have to do is get a sharp knife or a mandolin (which is better) and very thinly slice the onions. Spread them amongst your trays, set it according to how your dehydrator works, and let it go. On my dehydrator, with rotating tables, it took about 10 hours. I’d plan ahead. Once the onions were dried, I crushed them and simply added them to my spice mix to crust the fish. Easy, simple, and effortless. It just sounds complicated and takes some time but you honestly can do it with any onion; however, due to the mandatory ingredient for the contest, I had to go and dehydrate a Vidalia onion.

Now, let me talk trout, steelhead trout. Holy Mosses, Mary, and Jacob. Steelhead trout is the best frickin’ fish I have ever eaten in my LIFE. It is like a cross between trout and salmon; a noticeably rich authentically red flesh, yet, it has the scaling and skin of a trout with the flavor. Salmon is delicious, but, sometimes it can get too fishy and oily in taste. Trout, does not. Trout has the texture of the salmon but it doesn’t have that overwhelming buttery taste. It is there, but not to the point where you get disgusted. I love it. I’m going to try rainbow trout next to see if the taste is similar. Unfortunately, I can only acquire this one fish at one Kroger - ONE. So I’m half tempted to stock up. It is about $6 a pound, that I can probably feed to myself 3 times. So, that’s about $2 bucks a filet, which isn’t bad at all. It freezes well, so, I’m not afraid. Yeah, I think I’ll do that. God it is just so good. In this preparation method as well, especially with the coconut coriander chutney…words cannot describe the ecstasy. The seasonings reflected Moroccan-Middle Eastern flavors but next time, with the chutney too since I made a good amount, I’m going Indian. Mm..Masala Trout, Malabar Curried Trout..I’m drooling already.

Vidalia Onion Spice Crusted Trout
With Millet, Tahini Carrot Eggplant Fricassee,
and Coconut Cilantro Chutney

1 6-8 0z trout filet
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
½ tbsp ground dehydrated Vidalia onions

1 egg white, beaten

1 small carrot, diced ½ inch
½ small eggplant, diced ½ inch
½ small onion, diced ½ inch
1 tbsp tahini paste
½ tsp lemon juice
Garlic to taste
Coriander to taste
Cumin to taste

Coconut Cilantro Chutney
1 bag (7 oz) defrosted or 1 cup freshly shredded coconut (unsweetened)
1 small fresh chili, or, ½ tbsp chili flakes
1 scallion, chopped
½ cup fresh cilantro
½ tbsp minced ginger
¼ tsp of salt
½ tbsp lime zest
¼ cup of water

The Chutney
In my Food Lion near the frozen fruit are bags of frozen shredded/grated coconut that I swear are by Birds Eye but I can’t be certain. I know that Asian/Indian markets also sell frozen coconut shreds as well as dried. I can’t swear by the ounces but I do think it was between 7-9. It was a small flat bag, smaller than the pre-sweetened ones. It was unsweetened so, no matter the type you decide to use, assure that it is unsweetened.

Combine the coconut, and remaining ingredients - EXCEPT the water - in a food processor and blend until a chunky consistency. If it appears way too thick, like mine did, add a little bit of water at a time till you get a chunky peanut butter texture (that’s the best way to describe it). My preference is to have it cold, so, refrigerate it if you wish. It provides a pleasant temperature change from the hot fish. This makes about a cup, maybe more. I'd use it on just about anything or even eat it with crackers as a snack.

The Trout
Preheat your oven to 375.

Simply combine all the spices and onion flakes and spread them out on a dish. Dip the fish in the beaten egg white, and press it gently into the spice mixture until well coated.

Place onto a lined baking sheet or pan and bake it for about 5 to 7 minutes or until the fish appears opaque and is done to your liking.

The Fricassee
Eggplant and tahini pair all too well.

Dice the eggplant into small cubes, about ½ inch thick. Salt the eggplant and leave it to sit for 30 minutes to extract the bitterness and soften the flesh. I’ve done this process off and on with the eggplant to see if there is any difference and there is. Cooking time for pre-salted eggplant is cut because the salt, like fish with citrus, sort of cooks the interior of the eggplant. It isn’t necessary if you’re going to stew the eggplant since it’ll gain its required cooking time, but, let’s say you’re doing an eggplant rotini or lasagna - you don’t want to bite into raw eggplant.

While the eggplant is “draining”, chop the carrots, garlic and onions. Once the eggplant is done, wash off the bitterness, as they say, and begin the cooking. In a pan sprayed with cooking spray, sauté the onions until soft, followed by the garlic and eggplant. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like mushy carrots so I tend to toss them in last or more towards the end. Add water to prevent sticking, and let the eggplant cook until mostly transparent. Once that borderline has been breeched, toss in the carrots, coriander, and cumin. Sauté until the eggplant finishes and the carrots are cooked with a little crisp remaining, then add the lemon juice, tahini, salt and pepper to taste.

To plate, place the fricassee and millet on the bottom, nestle the trout on top and spoon a good dollop of chutney on top. Sprinkle more fresh cilantro over top. Finally with your first bite, let the rich earthy flavors of the Middle East envelop your taste buds.

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