I had a trip to Yosemite planned when the federal government shutdown cause the park to be closed. So I visited the area close to the park boundaries instead. I mountain biked to a small waterfall and also took a fly fishing lesson. I didn’t catch anything. But since we were practicing catch and release, even if I did I wouldn’t have been able to eat it.
After spending four hours knee-deep in river water learning to cast and scrambling along slippery algae-coated rocks, I suddenly had a craving for trout, specifically trout amandine. It is a classic French dish of trout topped with almonds and is often served with green beans or asparagus. Amandine indicates a garnish of almonds; it derived from the French word for almonds (“amandes”), though it is sometimes misspelled as almondine in American restaurants or cookbooks since this is more recognizable as relating to almonds to English speakers (wiki).
I choose the recipe for “Truite aux Haricots Verts et Amandes” (Trout with Haricots Verts and Almonds) from “Bouchon” by Thomas Keller since the recipe has been on my todo list ever since I read about it on DinnerALoveStory.com. The key to this dish is getting the green beans perfectly cooked and the trout to be just barely cooked through.
Cooking the trout is done by an interesting technique–the trout is seared only on the skin side for just a couple minutes and is taken off the heat before it is fully cooked through. The trout finishes cooking from the heat of the green beans and the brown butter sauce that it is topped with. In order for this to work, the trout must be butterflied or in fillets so that it will cook quickly. Trout, like most fish, becomes dry if it is over-cooked. This technique helps to ensure that the trout is cooked perfectly; the fish is served just at the moment it becomes cooked through, moist and just barely beginning to flake.
The green beans should be cooked until they are just barely softened and still very crunchy (almost squeeky) and vividly green colored. Be sure to taste them as you cook, and especially after you salt them. In my experience, green beans always need more salt than I expect; to me, green beans taste best when they are slightly salty since salt really brings out their flavor. For me the green beans, topped with brown butter sauce and almonds is the stand out part of the dish.
The recipe can be made from either whole butterflied trout or from fillets, with the skin on. It’s quickest and easiest with prepared fillets, but since I didn’t catch a fish (and couldn’t have kept it even if I did), I wanted a whole trout. The trout was already gutted when we bought it since there are enzymes in the gut which will cause the fish to go bad faster if they aren’t removed, but William scaled, deboned, and butterflied the trout; he isn’t squeamish. Although butterflying is a little more complex than using prepared fillets, it didn’t take him that long.
My trout was a beautiful and very tasty fish–a McFarland Springs Trout from TwoXSea’s Trout farm (available at Bi-Rite in San Francisco). I liked that this trout has pink meat, just like salmon (trout are actually related to salmon; they are in the same family); the trout’s color is from being fed red algae. It had a delicate sweet flavor and firm meat and wasn’t fishy at all. Almonds, brown butter and green beans are classic accompaniments for trout, so everything tasted perfectly together in the way that combinations that have stood the test of time often are.
Yield: Depends on the size of fish or fillets. A whole trout weighting 1.4 lbs before being butterflied and the green beans and almonds can be finished by two people if there are no other dishes; if a starch (such as potatoes or bread) is provided, this could probably feed four. 1 lbs of fillets should be enough to feed 4.
- 3/4 lbs green beans or haricots verts, both ends cut off and sliced in half (the segments should be about 2 inches long).
- one 1.4 lbs whole trout (measured with head and bone-in) or 1 lbs of deboned trout fillets with skin on
- pepper (either white pepper or black pepper)
- oil with high smoking point (such as grapeseed or canola)
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter * **
- 3/4 cup sliced almonds
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 2 tsp minced Italian parsley
- A heavy pan, preferably cast iron, that is large enough to fit the fish or fillets. If the trout is very large, you may need to cook it on a large flat griddle pan (preferably cast iron) which covers two burners (e.g. I cooked my 1.4 lbs trout on the flat side of this reversible grill pan since the trout was longer than my largest skillet. Since the grill pan covers two burners, it needs to be preheated for a long time so that there isn’t a cold patch in the areas between the burners). If you don’t have a large enough pan, then you could cut the fillets in half.
- A serving platter or several plates large enough for the cooked trout or fillets.
Prepare the Trout:
If using a whole trout: Descale the fish. Leave the skin on. Debone and either butterfly (this webpage on honest-food.net shows how) or fillet. Remove the head and tail and save for making stock or discard.
Rinse the butterflied fish or fillets. Thoroughly pat dry, especially the skin so that it will get crispy when pan-fried (if the skin is wet, it will steam the skin and the skin won’t get crispy).
Season the fish on both sides, inside and out, with salt and pepper (preferably salt at least 5 to 10 minutes before you cook the fish, so that the fish has time to absorb some of the salt). Place the fish skin side up so that the skin will air dry.
To Begin Cooking:
It is best to cook the trout, green beans, and almonds in brown butter sauce all the the same time so that everything finishes cooking at approximately the same time.
Place three pans on your stove (one for the trout, one for the green beans, and one for the almonds/ brown butter sauce). The pan for the almonds / brown butter sauce should be is large enough for the butter to only fill the pan halfway (the extra space is needed since the sauce may bubble up). Heat the pan for the trout on medium-high and heat the other two pans on medium. Turn on your fan.
For the almonds/brown butter sauce: Add 6 tablespoons butter and a pinch of salt in the pan for the sauce. When the butter begins to brown, add the sliced almonds. Stir occasionally to help them brown evenly.
For the green beans: Add 1/3 cup water and 2 Tbsp of butter into its own pan. When the butter has melted and the water comes to a boil, add the green beans. Stir occasionally.
Cook the Trout:
Immediately begin cooking the trout after you have started cooking the green beans and almonds/butter sauce.
Pat the trout’s skin with a paper towel to make sure it is dry.
Coat the pan for the trout with a light film of oil that has a high smoking point.
Lay the trout in the pan, skin side down, carefully so that the hot oil doesn’t splash on you. Don’t move the trout after you place it on the pan so that the skin will get crispy.
Stir the almonds and green beans occasionally while the trout is cooking, and monitor their progress to make sure they are not overcooking. The trout cooks the quickest, so it will most likely be done first.
Cook the trout for about 4 minutes (the time depends on the size and thickness of the fillet or butterflied trout), until the bottom and middle of the trout has cooked through, but a thin layer of the surface of the trout is still raw (the trout should be about 75% cooked through; the hot ingredients that will top the trout will finish cooking the raw parts). As soon as the trout is cooked, place it on a serving platter (use a flat spatula to loosen the crispy skin from the pan before moving it so that the skin doesn’t stick to the pan).
Cook the green beans until they have softened slightly and cooked through but still have some bite to them (“al dente”); it should take just a few minutes, though older beans take longer to cook. Most of all of the water should have evaporated and the green beans should be glazed with butter. Salt to taste. Green beans taste best when they are on the salty-side. They should be salted enough for you to notice the salt. If the green beans finish first, keep them warm but try not to overcook them.
Cook until the almonds are a rich golden brown (it might take 5 to 10 minutes); the butter will have browned and foamed. Stir in the lemon juice and parsley (reserve a small amount of parsley for the final garnish); the sauce may bubble up from the moisture in the lemon juice but the bubbling will subside quickly. Carefully taste the sauce (be careful it is hot), and add more lemon juice or salt if necessary; the sauce should have a barely noticeable bright acidic tang but it shouldn’t overwhelm the sauce. If the almonds finish first, keep the sauce warm but don’t burn the almonds while the other components finish cooking.
Use a slotted spoon to drain the green beans from their sauce, and top the trout with the cooked green beans while the green beans are hot. Discard any sauce left after cooking the green beans (putting it on the fish will dilute the brown butter sauce, and make the sauce cloudy.)
Spoon the almonds and brown butter over the green beans and trout and around the edges of the serving plate(s). Garnish with the reserved minced parsley. Serve immediately.
* The recipe looks like it has a lot of butter in it (1 stick), but don’t let that scare you. Most of the butter is used for a brown butter sauce; most likely you’ll only eat the sauce which clings to the trout, green beans, and almonds and most will be left on the serving platter.
** I prefer to use unsalted butter in this dish. Since different brands may use different amounts of salt in their butter, you will have to carefully taste and adjust the amount of salt you add each time you make this dish if you switch butter brands. If you use unsalted butter and the same type of salt, then it will be easier to consistently salt this dish every time. If consistency doesn’t worry you, feel free to use salted or unsalted butter in this dish as long as you add additional salt to taste.