A highly seasonal fish with lean and tender flesh
“Wild trout is a lot ‘cleaner’ tasting,” says Andy at Shellseekers Fish & Game when asked about the differences between wild trout and farmed. Farmed trout tends to spend most of its life in rivers, resulting in a distinctive, underlying earthiness to the taste. But wild sea trout is a different kettle of fish altogether. “They are only caught between the middle of May and September,” Andy explains. Its exceptionally short season and rarity largely comes down to the fish’s unusual breeding cycle: a wild trout spends most of its time out at sea, only travelling back to the river to spawn. This results not just in a nice life for the fish, but in leaner, tastier flesh.
Shellseekers’ wild sea trout, which is caught in Dorset, can be found at the stall with the prerequisite tag—an Environment Agency requirement—highlighting the legitimacy of the fish and helping to ensure a sustainable future.
A kind of alchemy
So, how can we make the most of this special and highly seasonal fish? Demo chef Luke Mackay believes that baking wild sea trout with a salt crust is the best way to go. “It keeps all the moisture in and seasons it at the same time,” Luke says. “I don’t know what the alchemy is, but it definitely tastes better. The salt permeates through rather than just staying on the top”—though do make sure you leave the skin on, to protect the flesh from over-salting.
“I use half table salt and half sea salt which gives you the best texture,” Luke explains. “I pour the salt into a bowl, grate in the zest of a couple of lemons, stir in an egg white and add water until it’s the texture of wet sand.” Then, put a layer of salt on a lined baking tray, about 1cm thick, in the shape of the fish. Lay the trout on top and pour over the mixture, patting it down to make sure the fish is completely enclosed—“like an igloo”. Luke suggests leaving it to bake in the oven at 180C for around 30 minutes for a one-kilogram sea trout. When you’ve taken the fish out of the oven, leave it to rest for about 20 minutes to let the moisture disperse throughout the fish. “Then you just crack it like an egg, peel off big chunks of salt and then take the skin off,” Luke advises. “You’re left with a perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned trout underneath.”
Try serving it with horseradish or watercress—or both. To make a horseradish sauce, simply grate fresh horseradish into double cream, along with a squeeze of lemon juice. “Watercress also works well with trout because the pepperiness cuts through the fattiness of the fish”—combine the three and you’ve a perfectly rounded meal.
For those who prefer not to eat fish on the bone, Luke also likes to cook trout fillets—steamed, poached, or fried skin-side down in the pan. “I use a 90:10 rule,” he says—“90 per cent of the cooking time I have the skin on the pan and for the remaining 10 per cent of the cooking time, I flip it over. The residual heat will continue to cook the fish and the skin will remain perfectly crisp.”