You say Celery, I say Celeriac

Celery and celeriac are not the same thing, despite what our attempt at a clever title might suggest. Actually distinct varieties in the same plant genus, Apium, developed from the same wild species. Celeriac is more widely appreciated in Europe than in the U.S., as a lovely replacement for potatoes, whether steamed, roasted, or mashed. Here we are using both celery and celeriac in a preparation of brook trout. See this post for a much longer appreciation of the trout itself. For this recipe, we’re playing with the flavor affinities and contrasts of celery.

We begin with a very bright, unconventional slaw including celery, rhubarb and fennel and then also offer a subtle highlight with grill-dried celery leaves as a garnish. The celeriac is peeled and boiled, then pureed with butter and heavy cream to provide a delicate hint of traditional roasted celery flavor beneath the grilled trout. Our trout here was plank-roasted over apple wood. Though a pan roasted approach would as well, the smoky, grilled preparation really allows the brightness of the slaw and the creaminess of the puree to play full, complementary roles.

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We chose to peel a single bulb of celeriac, and then dice it into 1 inch cubes. We boiled it in just enough water to cover in a large pot, with a pinch of salt and an additional bay leaf. Once soft enough to easily crush a cube, we drained and then added 1/2 cup of heavy cream and 4 tablespoons of butter, then mashed the celeriac until fine. Options here would include pureeing the mixture until smooth. Yukon Gold potatoes could be added when boiling to create a less pronounced celeriac flavor, though celeriac is already fairly mild, with just a overtone of celery. A 1/2 cup of grated white cheddar or a fresh goat cheese would also be great.

The celery, rhubarb, fennel slaw is a variation on this apple, fennel salad, with thinly sliced rhubarb standing in for the granny smith apple. Either approach is excellent, but we had rhubarb on hand and enjoyed the “three stalk slaw”, a reference to the look of each of the ingredients. We made this a few hours in advance to allow the fennel to soften slightly.

The rainbow trout is simply gutted and cleaned, then sprinkled with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. We had applewood planks cut from an ancient apple tree in the backyard which were ideal for this grilling application. A few leafy stalks of celery were set off heat on the grill and allowed to dry the leaves to use as a garnish.

celery1

The rich, creamy flavors of the celeriac were a beautiful canvas for the smoky fish, with out three-stalk slaw providing a bright contrast, the different hits of celery flavor playing very different roles. Overall a very satisfying dish.

In Praise of Smoked Trout

I have a special fondness for trout. They are a beautiful jewel of a fish, found in some of nature’s most pristine and precious settings. On a mountain lake at Colorado twilight, nearly silent but for the light ripple of the lure hitting the mirrored surface of the water, anticipating, feeling for the pull, completely focused on that moment, that motion and then the strike. Fishing there with my father and my brothers, we caught a dozen rainbow trout, filleting them right at the shore. A campfire burning, with a tripod rig and a grill to hold a cast iron pan. A stick of butter, a sliced sweet onion, a couple sliced cloves of garlic, simmered slowly until golden brown and then the fresh filleted fish added. Amongst the finest things I’ve ever eaten. The setting, the company, the delicate flavor, the moment. Our memories, our emotions inevitably inform our sense of taste. For me, trout evokes both that sense of taste and the connection to place.

That connection to place brings us back to the Great Lakes region, which has a number of decent trout streams, though admittedly nothing like the American West in number. Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan are particularly well-suited to re-establishing the brook trout. In addition, a number of local firms have scaled up the production of stream-raised trout. A recent trip to the local farmers market yielded a few unexpected delights including this lovely bit of smoked trout from Silver Moon Springs in Elton, WI, perfect for a smoked trout dip appetizer.

Smoked Trout

Built on a natural trout stream in the early 1950s, Silver Moon Springs began to sell trout raised there in the late 1970s and continues now into the third-generation. Now I’ll contend that nothing beats catching a brook trout on a crystal clear stream as the sun sets into the pines and smoking it over an applewood fire, but a decent alternative is to have this lovely piece of fish prepared for you, vacuum-packed and ready to go. If you can’t make it to a farmer market where they are selling, an alternative is Rushing Waters – another fishery in Wisconsin, which sells online and ships nationally.

Smoked Trout Dip

6 oz. of smoked trout

4 oz. cream cheese
4 oz. quark cheese or goat cheese (see note)
1 clove finely diced green garlic or 1 Tbs. chopped chives
1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme
¼ cup heavy cream (optional)
1 tsp. salt

Lemon juice
Hot Sauce
Salt

Sliced kohlrabi, cucumber, or crackers for service

Note: The “accent” cheese used in this recipe does matter a great deal. We have had the great fortune of using the standard Quark and the Maple Quark from Clock Shadow Creamery in Milwaukee, WI, though we have also made this with a soft goat cheese, such as a chèvre. Quark is a soft, semi-sour cheese, something like a cross between sour cream and cottage cheese. If you can find quark and your variety is quite soft, omit the cream unless needed. Personal favorite – the lovely balance of sweet and sour in the Maple Quark from Clock Shadow Creamery. Have all cheese at room temperature before beginning.

Another note: Green garlic is simply the garlic bulb before it has fully matured and dried to the characteristic garlic pungency. It has more of a shallot flavor and texture but with the green onion overtones. You can find at the farmers market like we did or use fresh chives to get a similar result.

Place the cheeses, garlic/chives, thyme, cream (if using), and salt into a food processor and pulse to fully combine. Flake the smoked fish apart on a plate, removing any skin or bones. Add fish to the food processor and pulse briefly to combine. For this preparation we are just mixing the trout until fully combined, no further. Some prefer to fully process the trout into a smooth paste, more of a trout mousse.

A few additions to taste at this point: 1 or 2 teaspoons of lemon juice may be warranted to bring out all the flavors. Do not overdo the lemon as it tends to dampen the smoke flavors which will come more to the fore as the dip sits overnight. A drop or two of hot sauce, particularly a smoky hot sauce can add a very subtle enhancement to the dip. Store overnight and then taste test again, adding lemon, hot sauce or salt as needed. Remember that the trout is the star, so do not over-season.

Smoked Trout1

We served our dip with thinly sliced purple kohlrabi, another farmers market find. The light cabbage-like flavors and the beautiful crispness of the kohlrabi are a perfect foil for the trout dip. Cucumber is a traditional accompaniment, garden fresh would be ideal, but partially peeling the cucumber would be recommended. Alternatively, a good hearty cracker will work.

We have had opportunities to make variation of this with store bought smoked lake trout and home-smoked whitefish with similar positive reviews. The quality of the fish and the “accent cheese” really make a difference as does the overnight blending of flavors. This dip ends up being more about exploration than execution, more sourcing than technique. In the end, it reflects the places the ingredients come from more than the efforts of the chef. That seems to fit well in our exploration of Great Lakes Cuisine.

 

Lake Trout with Almond Browned Butter

Trout Almandine, coated in almonds and served with a brown butter sauce, is traditionally French but has been transplanted and rooted for generations now into New Orleans creole cuisine. This would not be a representative dish of Great Lakes cuisine, but I love the flavor and texture of fresh trout and prepared almandine (also spelled almondine) is a personal favorite. Luckily, lake trout is plentiful in the area because populations are rapidly increasing in the Great Lakes basin. Lake trout is actually a freshwater char, related to a salmon but distinct. Unlike salmon, it is actually native to the Great Lakes basin, though since exported to many other areas, it was once the alpha predator in the largest freshwater lakes in the world. The texture and flavor of the large lake trout is somewhere between the flake and texture of salmon with the slightly milder flavor of trout. Adapting the traditionally French approach to a local ingredient and then pairing it with a more local ethnic tradition brings us back to our Great Lakes roots and we share the fruits of that process here.

We wanted to prepare on the grill and adapted the traditional almond/brown butter approach. Our sides are grilled roasted cabbage, radicchio, with shallots and baked, cheese-filled potatoes. Combining the whipped potato filling with the cabbage creates a dish not unlike Irish colcannon but with greater complexity and richness, a lovely complement to our grilled trout.

Lake Trout with Almond Browned Butter

1 lb. fillet of Lake Superior Lake Trout
½ cup salted butter (1 stick)
½ cup thin sliced almonds
salt

Place butter in a saucepan over medium heat to melt and continue to cook, stirring regularly, until it just begins to brown. Add almonds, stirring continuously and remove from heat immediately upon slight browning of the almonds. Strain almonds from butter and place on a paper towel to drain, reserve butter. This can be done several hours or a day in advance. Prepare a grill with hardwood charcoal. Using aluminum foil, create a “pan” large enough to hold the fillet. Spread half the reserved butter on the fish and sprinkle lightly with salt. When coals are ready and grill is approximately 450 degrees Fahrenheit, place fish on grill, cover grill and allow to cook until fish just begins to flake, 6 to 10 minutes. Cut into servings and serve topped with remaining butter and sprinkled with almonds.

Grilled Cabbage and Radicchio

1 head Savoy cabbage
1 head radicchio
½ cup olive oil
1 Tbs. Penzey’s Bavarian Seasoning (see note)
Salt and pepper

Dressing
½ cup olive oil
1 Tbs. stone ground mustard
1Tbs. malt vinegar
1 tsp. Penzey’s Bavarian Seasoning

Note: Penzey’s Bavarian Seasoning is a hand-mixed blend of crushed brown mustard, rosemary, garlic, thyme, bay leaf and sage. You can get it here or approximate the blend at home.

Prepare grill. Slice the cabbage into eights through the core, leaving leaves attached. Quarter the radicchio in the same manner, sprinkle with olive oil and seasonings. In a glass bowl large enough to accommodate all the greens, combine all dressing ingredients, whisk to combine and set aside. When coals are ready and grill is approximately 450 degrees Fahrenheit, place greens on grill and cover. The radicchio will cook in about 4 minutes, flip once half way through cooking. The cabbage will take 8 minutes, again flip half way through. Being careful not to overly char the greens, here is what it should look like coming off the grill.

Cabbage Roasted

Place finished greens into glass bowl with dressing, toss to coat. Serve immediately, or if you are cooking the cabbage before the fish, re-heat at time of service.

Baked Whipped Potatoes
12 small red potatoes (or similar style)
1 cup grated cheese (see discussion below)
1 cup mayonnaise

In a large pot, half-filled with water over medium high heat, boil potatoes until just soft, approximately 20 minutes, then remove from water and allow to cool. Can be done several hours or a day ahead of time. When cool, cut in half along the longest dimension, and use a melon baller or small spoon to hollow out potatoes. Leave about ¼ inch of potato in the skins and place the removed potato in a large bowl. Add cheese and mayonnaise to potato and whip until smooth. Refill the shells and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 20 minutes. A minute under the broiler will help brown the tops nicely.

Cheese: We used Carr Valley’s Menage, a blend of cow, sheep, and goat milk, which has a vibrant, rich flavor with a hint of the goat cheese tang. Consider using a semi-hard European-style cheese with enough punch to cut through the potato. Some options would include a well-aged white cheddar, a rind-washed Gruyere, or an aged Asiago.

Mayonnaise: We prefer a house-made mayonnaise which is simple to make if you have a blender, an egg, and some olive oil. But to simplify the recipe, store bought is a easy substitution.

We used purple potatoes for our preparation just to add a bit of additional color, but we’ve had these most often with red potatoes. The smaller potatoes lend themselves to creative plating options.

Laketrout

We enjoyed this meal with a Winds of Change from O’so Brewing which is a vibrant, hoppy, tart explosion of a beer. This is an IPA fermented with brettanomyces, it hits the tongue like a champagne crossed with a tart cider ale with hops coming along in the after-taste. Funky is a term often used for sour beers, and I’d use that term here, but not in the skunky-sense, but more the way it plays a surprising acidic counter-point to the rich foods we enjoyed.

Lake trout is surprisingly versatile and future endeavors will include grilling it on an applewood plank as well as smoking it and using as a topping for smørrebrød. A wonderful baseline ingredient for Great Lakes Cuisine.