Head-On Cooking


Editors’ Note: Here’s more from LC. Reminder – her mom’s a chef; she’s clueless in the kitchen.

So, I was at Whole Foods the other day milling about the fresh fish and it occurred to me I had never cooked a whole fish. As in one that looked like a fish with its head on and everything.

Whole Foods had the cutest looking trout and I thought I should try it since I was just going to make it for myself and if I screwed up:
a) no one would have to suffer along with me
b) I could submit it for Friday Fuck Ups.

I did get a little nervous about the preparation so I called Babs, my mom and a chef, for instructions.

LC: Mom, I’m in the grocery store and about to buy some fish. How should I make it?
(getting her chef voice on): What kind of fish?
LC: Trout, with the head on and everything.
: OK, get some shallots and lemon. Saute the shallots in butter and wine with salt and pepper. Squeeze some lemon on the fish and then throw it in with the shallots. To make an actual sauce reduce the shallot sauce in a little wine and maybe broth.
LC: I only have red wine, though. Will that work?
Mom (deeply sighing and wondering if, despite 9 months of gestation and 30 years of raising me, actually gave birth to someone so incompetent): Yes, red wine is fine.

I bought the trout and realized I actually did have a white-ish wine, Champagne (which frankly goes better with a white fish, Mom).  Plus, it was rapidly going flat in my fridge. So I bring you…


Boneless* Trout with Champagne and Shallot Sauce

I did as instructed – Squeezed lemon on the fish and put salt and pepper on the outside and inside of it. I also put some capers in and around it and put it on foil on a cookie sheet because I have a pretty sorry sauté pan and yes it’s my only pan.

While my mom is a proponent of using only the finest cooking tools, I will apparently only get my hands on some when I have a partner for life to whom I have sworn eternal devotion and then registered at Williams-Sonoma. ‘Til then, I use these tools which horrify my mother.

So, not only did the fish not really fit in the pan but I was worried about it cooking unevenly and I used my standard cheat: searing in the pan first, then putting it in the oven, wrapped in foil, to actually cook. If you have a nice pan, good on you – you can probably cook the whole thing in there.

Then, I cut up shallots and at this point couldn’t remember if mom said anything about garlic, but also couldn’t remember a time when she told me to make something without garlic, so I put some in there too. I sautéed it in butter, seared the fish on there for a couple minutes on each side and then threw it in foil, squeezed on some lemon and put it in the oven for about 10 minutes.

I added champagne to the shallots ( forgot the broth but that might have been good too) along with more salt and pepper and reduced it until the fish was done cooking. If I do say so myself, it was delicious and stupidly easy.

One fish was a little more than ½ lb. and not too expensive. I easily could have fed two people with a relatively small looking fish, when compared to say, a honking swordfish steak.

*A word of caution, “boneless” was not a precise description of the state of the fish. I would say it was more “kind of deboned except for those little teeny tiny ones” which, admittedly, would have been awkward phrasing for the little cards at the store.

And yes, I ate the head.

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  • Catfish June 25, 2009  

    I still have not ventured to eat a fish’s head. In fact, the only time I’ve been served an entire fish, it really put me off. I think that if I were to actually make the dish myself like you did it would go a lot better, but I ordered it at a Mexican restaurant in Boise and the menu said nothing about a head or scales. I just couldn’t do it….but state of mind is everything. I’ve eaten Rocky Mountain Oysters, because my parents trained me too by serving them to me for years as “veal nuggets”, but a simple fish in it’s natural state (yes, with lemon is it’s natural state) seems so weird. Now I’m going to have to make this, just to redeem myself for that restaurant experience.

  • Brian June 25, 2009  

    I can think of one that will suffer whether or not you are successful. The dang fish!

  • LC June 25, 2009  

    @ catfish: I think the key phrase here is “Mexican restaurant in Boise.” I think maybe the fish dish deserves another try and another venue.

  • gansie June 25, 2009  

    i remember the first time i was served a whole fish. we dug inside to eat the cheek meat. i’ve never looked back. full fish for me please!

  • BS June 25, 2009  

    I’ve always wanted to be that guy who says “yum, give me the eye.” But I just can’t.

  • Catfish June 26, 2009  

    LMAO @ LC….there are actually many Mexican restaurants here in Boise, some of which are quite authentic…we still have a lot of agricultural business and immigrant workers here…the problem might be more accurately attributed to the fact that it was a chain restaurant. But I will give it a chance in another venue, most likely my own house. I didn’t have good tofu until I learned to do for myself, maybe this is just the same thing again.

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