The Trout

I've been immersed in readings about women cooking in France. I finished the recent Julia Child memoir with the definite understanding that not only am I not Julia Child, I don't even want to be like her. I don't have her drive and enthusiasm for the details and technique of cooking. I'm not even especially intrigued by nuanced combinations of flavors. I cook for friends and family, and I'm still trying to figure out my nexus of cooking, pleasure and servitude.

After Julia Child, I picked up Madeleine Kamman's When French Women Cook, a memoir with recipes. She goes through each stage of her life, chapter by chapter describing the women who influenced her with their cooking. There's Marie-Charlotte, her great-grandmother, who taught her La Cuisine Misere ("cooking something from nothing"). A recipe for Cream of Dandelion Soup (Creme de Pissenlits) follows. I haven't tried this recipe, and I can pretty much promise that I never will. It's stipulated that you want two pounds of the early dandelions, and it's already too late for that.

Victoire the mushroom maven is Kamman's next mentor. She starts that chapter saying "Disappointment comes early in life." How true! Her letdown came when she injured herself in the audition for the Paris Opera Ballet and was sent off to a distant relative's care for recovery. This raises all sorts of unanswered questions; Kamman stays focused on her accidental apprenticeship, recording what she refers to as a "France that has disappeared."

She describes a time that she and Victoire celebrated a mushroom windfall by eating out, having Truites au Lard. Following the theme of disappointment, the special meal didn't "measure up," so Victoire promised to prepare the dish the way it was supposed to be. Her story goes on with the older lady catching a trout with her bare hands, and of course they tasted better than those from the restaurant.

Having passed on not only weed soup but Squabs with Grapes and Pineau and Poached Chicken in Vinegar, I decided it was time to recapture lost France in my kitchen. Even though I knew I wouldn't be able to grab any trout except at Citarella, I decided on Truites au Lard. It's basically trout pan-fried in fat rendered from diced pancetta. [Note to self: try to avoid using the word lard in recipes; real turn off.] It was one of those French recipes that are deceptively easy:

• soak trout in milk (I don't know why, but it said to, and I did)
• render pancetta fat (1/2 oz cubed pancetta for each trout)
• take out crispy pancetta.
• flour the trout and saute about 4 min. a side. (I had some big trout, so this wasn't nearly enough time.
When the trout are done, put them on a platter and return the crispy pancetta to the pan along with 2 cloves of garlic, 2 T parsley and 2 T butter. It's done when the garlic starts to color up.
• Pour this over the trout. and serve.

I had the full Madeleine Kamman experience: I was thoroughly disappointed. I don't know what exactly I was trying to conjure. This certainly wasn't the fresh trout my mom used to make when everyone had gone fishing in the Sacramento Delta. Nor did it seem decidedly French with the mammoth fish on offer in New York. I had high expectations, to be sure, anticipating being transported to some little French kitchen where nobody had to hurry about synchronizing dinner, piano practice, bath, and bedtime stories in two hours time.


SF Mom of One said...

Without stopping to consider the pan fried trout failure, here is where my mind went:

Trout Fishing in America (remember, Brautigan, early 70s?)

Fishing as meditation (the fly fishing thing)

Meditation through action (ala Thich Nhat Hanh)


Grabbing a trout with your bare hands: a very high form of meditation.

Deb St-Claire said...

I'll try it if you will. I would have to wear river shoes though because I'm afraid of Schistosoma.

Deb St-Claire said...

BTW I really like Brautigan. Goggle: It's raining in love.

Anonymous said...

What is it with soaking fish in milk? My mom always did it, so I do too, but I have no idea why. I have heard it is good for frozen or thawed fish but have no info on fresh fish.

Maybe a little French music and a bottle of French wine would make the meal more satisfying. Good music and good wine can always make you forget that your food is just mediocre.

Anonymous said...

It is my understanding that soaking any meat in milk breaks down the bonds of the meat in some way, making it tender and moist. This is why it is particularly good to do with frozen fish. But, it also makes for a very tender chicken.


Deb St-Claire said...

Anonymous - Yes! Music and wine would definitely help. Thanks for the reminder.

Anonymous - Kirsten - Wow! Who knew? (You did!) I really appreciate the help. That's like the buttermilk for fried chicken, right? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I think soaking in milk is also supposed to remove the fishy odor/taste - especially in frozen fish.