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Cooking Local Grilled Trout and Asparagus with Buerre Blanc

April 13, 2012

    Welcome back to the kitchen. Friends, I love this time of year. I’ve got some things planted in the garden promising great food to come, the weather is warming up, and more and more local eating options are becoming available. Of course we are still a ways off from the bulk of the harvest, and I’ll be rejoicing anew when the farmers markets open.
    But today I’ve heard some of my favorite news of the year: the local asparagus harvest is beginning! Apparently the soil has to hit 52 degrees for asparagus to pop out, and on farms to the East of us that is happening as we speak. Isn’t that exciting? Now, if you don’t like fresh, local asparagus, I’m not sure you are a person who can find happiness in this all too short lifetime we are granted.
    Tender, juicy, succulent, sweet… I love asparagus steamed, grilled, roasted, fried, and raw. It is perfect tossed in olive oil, vinegar, and garlic salt. It makes a great addition to a stir fry. It is delicious chopped up into a salad.
    And yes, delicious spring asparagus will make your urine smell funny, in as little as 15 minutes after eating. And no, you are not one of those people who’s doesn’t smell funny, you are simply one of those people who is unable to detect the distinctive asparagus smell in the porcelain altar after you’ve made an offering. At least if you believe WebMD, we all make the smell, but only some of us can smell it. Got it?
    Of course that is just an interesting aside about this masterful seasonal veggie. Perhaps it is the relatively short season for local asparagus that makes me love it so much. It is my first favorite thing of spring. And local, fresh asparagus is much more flavorful and tender than the stuff you get out of season in the grocery store. So start eating lots of asparagus now and don’t stop for at least a month or two!
    Today I’m craving some simple grilled fish with herbs, grilled asparagus, and the whole dish tied together with a masterfully delicious buerre blanc sauce. This is a classic seafood sauce, sort of in the hollandaise or béarnaise sauce category, but lighter and tangier (and easier to make).
    Literally translated from the French, buerre blanc means “white butter”, and while this sauce certainly doesn’t shy away from butter, it is flavored with wine and vinegar, shallots and herbs. Buerre blanc is an emulsified butter sauce, which means the butter is smoothly blended with the other ingredients for a creamy, uniform consistency. This can be a bit tricky to pull off without “breaking” the sauce, but we will have more on that later.
    For the fish, I am going to use some beautiful whole trout I’ve come across. If you can’t find whole trout, you can use any mild white fish filets for this recipe as well, but they will cook faster than whole fish. I will say that this particular recipe works best with whole trout, because we are stuffing the herbs inside the body cavity.

    -4 medium whole trout, gutted and cleaned
    -2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
    -2 tablespoons olive oil
    -2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, minced
    -2 cloves garlic, minced
    -1/2 teaspoon salt
    -1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
    -1 lemon, cut up into thin slices
    Mix together parsley, olive oil, tarragon, and garlic. Dill might also be nice in there, if you’d like. You can use a mortar and pestle or a food processor to make this herb paste, but I’m just chopping and mixing by hand for this simple recipe. Spread the herb mixture evenly on the inside of the fish. I like to lay in a few slices of lemon in the middle of each fish too, and save the rest for a garnish. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper inside each fish. For more flavor, cover the fish and refrigerate for 2 hours before cooking.
    When it is time to cook the fish, oil the cooking grate and preheat your grill. Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper and grill for 4-5 minutes on each side over a medium to medium high heat. When the flesh flakes easily with a fork and none of it is translucent, carefully remove the trout from grill and serve whole, warning guests to take care with delicate bones.
    To grill up the asparagus, just snap off the last inch or so of each stalk (it will break where it needs to), and toss them in just a little but of olive oil so they don’t stick to the grill. It won’t take much. If your asparagus is very thin, it can cook in just a minute or two. If it is very thick, it will obviously take longer. Try to flip the asparagus halfway through, when it is starting to get some charred grill marks and is still bright green, not overdone.
    I will admit it can be very tricky to flip fish and asparagus on the grill without losing either though the cracks. So you might want to use one of those grill baskets for this that keeps all that good for together and is easy to flip with one turn of the handle.

    So I hope I’ve given you a very basic idea for a simple and delicious grilled trout and asparagus spring meal. Let’s put on some rice to cook for a side dish and focus in on the thing that is going to tie this whole dish together and make it a classy masterpiece: the buerre blanc sauce. It might be a little intimidating until you master it, but it is actually pretty quick and will definitely wow your friends.
    We will need:

    -1 cup dry white wine (any drinkable, dry white wine is fine)
    -½ cup white wine vinegar
    -1 Tbsp finely chopped shallot (I actually used a bit more than that, because I love shallot)
    -1 lb unsalted butter, cold
    -a splash of cream (about ¼ cup or so, but don't use that all at once, use as needed)
    -Kosher salt, to taste
    -1 teaspoon fresh tarragon, chopped fine, plus parsley for garnish
    -a small squeeze of fresh lemon juice

    First, heat wine, vinegar and shallots in a saucepan until the liquid boils, then lower the heat a bit and continue simmering until the liquid has reduced down to about 2 tablespoons. This should take about 10 minutes.
    While the liquid reduces you can cut the butter into medium (½-inch) cubes, but either leave this until the reduction is nearly finished or return the butter cubes to the refrigerator to keep them cold while the liquid finishes reducing.
    Once the wine-vinegar mixture has reduced to 2 tablespoons, reduce the heat to low and start adding the cubes of butter, one or two at a time, and whisk rapidly with a wire whisk.
    As the butter melts and incorporates, add more butter and keep whisking. Continue until you only have 2-3 cubes remaining. Remove from heat while whisking in the last few cubes, and whisk for a moment or two more. The finished sauce should be thick and smooth.
    Season to taste with Kosher salt, a little lemon and tarragon. Traditionally the shallots would be strained out before serving, but doing so is optional. Serve right away and keep warm, but not hot, or sauce will break.
    Now, that is just a basic version of a buerre blanc recipe, plus some tarragon I thought ought to be added. But this is a masterful sauce, so I thought I’d better ask for a bit of help:

    And there you have it, a hopefully perfect buerre blanc sauce to complement our grilled trout and fresh spring asparagus. Yum! I’d love to hear what you’ve been cooking, and what local ingredients you are most excited for. Send me any questions or comments to Isaac@kohoradio.com. Cooking local in the KOHO Kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner.