“Things that grow together, go together.”
I have a terrific book on my shelves, ‘The Flavour Thesaurus’, by Niki Segnit. It’s a very handy reference when you have something in the fridge and you’re trying to figure out what to use as an accompaniment; it’s also handy to refer to if you have had a wacky idea, just to check that those flavours really will work together.
On the subject of trout and cress it has this to say: “not so much a pairing as a reunification. Trout feed on the more tender leaves of watercress but they’re really after the sowbugs, tiny crustaceans that live in its thickets.” Having had the idea, and knowing that we would be attending the Watercress Festival at the weekend, I knew to look out for some trout in the farmers’ market that is at the heart of the festival. I would have preferred to have got hold of brown trout, which has a more fulsome flavour than the rainbow trout which was all that was available there, but it was no problem – all I had to do was ensure that I gave it a little help by putting other flavoursome elements around it.
Hitting the books, I found that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall pairs trout and watercress with pearled spelt (in his excellent book ‘Three Good Things’), with a strong sauce that cuts through and enhances the flavour of the fish. I was thinking of using horseradish, which goes brilliantly with salmon so should work here (and it does by the way), but I always prefer to make everything if I can, rather than opening a jar.
There was still something missing though, I thought Hugh might have missed a trick by limiting himself to just three main ingredients. What I now had planned reminded me a little of kedgeree, and of course egg and cress are a classic combination, so would eggs work here? I always presumed that the eggs in a kedgeree only really work because of the way they interact with the curry flavours; the flavour thesaurus indicated that it wouldn’t be a disaster and you’ll never know unless you try it. I’m not spoiling the plot by telling you that of course it worked, otherwise the eggs wouldn’t appear in the recipe below.
It’s enormously satisfying when a faint idea blossoms into a recipe that you will make again and again; for mere amateurs like me it is a fairly rare occurrence, there will always be more failures along the way than successes. There’s always more to learn though, and a failure isn’t really a failure when you can learn so much from it. The main point here is to remind you that it’s okay to experiment. Don’t be afraid of ‘failure’; just read recipes, steal bits of them, adapt parts of others, play around with flavours and textures and see what happens, it can be great fun and if you can make cooking fun your eating will be fabulous, just like it is here.
RECIPE – for 2 people as a main course, for 4 people or more as a starter
1 rainbow or brown trout, 500g or so, or two smaller fish
1 onion, sliced
2 tsp black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
a handful of parsley stalks, gently bruised
150g pearled spelt
1 tsp bouillon powder (I use Marigold)
2 good handfuls of watercress, large clumps separated
a handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
2 duck eggs, boiled for 7 1/2 minutes and set aside
For the dressing:
50g plain yoghurt
1 tsp English mustard
juice of 1/2 lemon
a small pinch of sugar
Lay the fish in a pan deep enough that you can completely cover it with water. Add the onion, peppercorns, bay and parsley stalks. Bruise the parsley stalks first, by gently pressing down on them with the flat of a knife.
Bring to a gentle simmer and poach the fish for 8-10 minutes. The exact time will depend on the size of your fish but be very careful not to go over – the fish flesh should be just translucent as it will cook on slightly. Lift the fish out and allow to cool completely before peeling the skin off and lifting the flesh from the bones. Try to keep the fish in fairly large chunks.
While the fish is cooling, strain the poaching liquid through a sieve to remove the onion, peppercorns, bay and parsley. Season with a teaspoon of bouillon powder and carefully adjust by adding salt, a tiny pinch at a time and testing after each addition.
You will now have a delicious fish stock, bring it to the boil and add the spelt. Simmer for 20-30 mins until the spelt is soft but still has a nutty ‘bite’.
Ten minutes or so before you think the spelt is done, boil the duck eggs for 7 1/2 minutes (if you can’t get duck eggs then use large hens eggs and boil for 6 mins) then set aside to cool slightly before cracking and peeling the shells, taking care to keep the eggs intact.
Drain the spelt and set aside while you make the dressing, by whisking together all the dressing ingredients.
On a serving platter gently combine the fish and spelt, dress with the watercress and parsley leaves, cut the eggs in half (the yolks should be soft but not runny) and place on top, then drizzle with the dressing.
This is lovely served warm as described; leftovers can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days and it is still delicious cold.