Category Archives: Spanish

Catch of the Day: Trout in Ham Recipe

I don’t know what pushed us to go ice fishing few week-ends ago, but it wasn’t a common sense. But it made a good story, so I guess it was worth it anyways. Although very cold, the morning was bright and shiny and promised all kind of fun nature adventures. Doggy, the house astrologer was giving us her blessings…
When we arrived at Phillipsburg, it was minus thirty in Celsius, windy (which translates into minus forty five with the wind chill factor) and unbelievably humid because the day before was much warmer. The man on duty at Activités Plein Air with lobster-red face and neck briefly explained the rules of serious ice fishing and handed us a can of worms (greeting bonus for the ice fishing newcomers). ‘Go check your place and tell me when you’re ready,’ he said chewing cigarette roach and waving to the few cabins (cabane à pêche) available, so we could take a pic before parting with Canadian $75.00. ‘Is it biting well?’ – we inquired. ‘Keeps us pas mal busy, he replied. Perhaps he was talking about his liver, I don’t know. He had a breath of the United Distillery although it was just little past the afternoon. I realized we didn’t bring any alcohol, just a six-pack of Blanche de Chambly, which sounded more like a joke in this weather condition. What were we thinking? This kind of adventure calls for some hard alcohol, like the 120-proof Jamaican rum that can curl your nose hair just by looking at it. I also realized I should have put three pairs of pants instead of two, brought snow goggles, covered the rest of my face with Vaseline and wrapped the rest of my body in extra wool and feathers…
It was around half-mile to get to the nearest free cabin walking over the frozen lake. By the time we did with our back packs and fishing gear, I couldn’t take pictures anymore because my fingers went numb. So felt my camera – the buttons froze and were not working. The shack was empty, dark and cold: we had to go back to buy and bring some fire wood to start warming it up. The neighbor within few meters flung his cabin door open to take a loud steamy piss disregarding us as if we were some kind of uninvolved bystanders stoned as much as him by that point of the day. He then gulped some moonshine from a plastic water bottle and vanished back into his cabin. Although many shacks have been already rented, we’ve seen no fish caught around and heard no screams of excitement. Everything was dead silent, steamy cold and wild.
In less than 15 minutes I felt like I’ve been ice fishing for a century. I might even have taken this image a hundred years ago in Gilford, Ontario, except I absolutely wouldn’t want to be that person…
The landscape reminded me of ‘The Red Tent’ vintage movie my parents used to make me watch as a toddler for like thousand times because they liked it and thought it was a ‘masterpiece tragedy’. Sean Connery played Roald Amundsen, Claudia Cardinale was a hot nurse Valeria. Most of the time (script) all was lost; the characters would suffer from the situation, relationships and excruciating cold. Everyone’s face was covered with icicles. Everything went epic bad to the score of eternal Enio Morricone…
‘I think we have just screwed our day. The fish is not biting. Most of my blood circulation has shut down… And our phone is dead…. What other signs do we need to stop before it’s too late? It feels to me like this kind of adventure can only give pneumonia or a prostate whatever… What if we freeze to death, or worse, drift into the ocean on break-away sea ice floes like those 220 Latvian anglers? I should have SKYPEd with my Mom this morning.’
‘Just for today, I wish I had a giant beard like Hans Langseth to keep me warm. I could wrap it around my neck and shoulders and protect myself better from the Arctic cold and hard-blowing flurries’, the idea crossed my mind while we soldiered back to the station at the sunset empty-handed. The landscape was breathtaking though…
‘I thought the catch would happen fast and easy like that Finnish angler promised in his blog. ‘Next time may be you should check the real Canadian website for more information on local conditions,’ suggested honey-bunny. Oh well. That was our tribute to cold.We did catch one fish – a small pregnant perch, which we released:
I enlarged it on purpose (like they do with many things) to compare with the Finnish angler (bottom right image is a Finnish pike):
I was happy to be back to Montreal safe and sound. We passed by Costco and I bought a pack of freshly caught trout with one single wish in my head: ‘Summer, come back to me!’.
The wish manifested later in the form of Trucha Con Jamón dish – my favorite Spanish way (originating from Navarra region) to cook trout wrapped in cured ham. Crisp ham and fish skin, juicy tender fish fillet inside, contrasting exotic flavors. It guarantees to bring the sunshine back to your plate rain or shine! Next time in February, Costco will be as far as I can go for my winter catch of the day adventure, I swear.
Naturally, this recipe can be done with other wrap-able fresh fish, or even better, fish fillet. Pickerel, cod, haddock, rockfish or bass fillets would be my best bets; lean salmon would be OK  (as long as the piece is not too greasy).
Equally, some versions of Trucha Con Jamón are done with the ham going inside the cavity of the fish instead of the outside. The most known is the one called Truca a la Riohana. Still heavenly tasty!
Quick note: TOTALLY OPTIONAL – often I de-bone the fish (which is easy in case of the fresh trout) for the comfort of consumption, but it’s really not necessary if you’re OK with fish bones (although it does give you a hint that you can do the same with any pair of fish fillets – sounds to me like a great idea for a restaurant menu):
Another quick note/disclaimer: although it makes quite a stretch from the classic recipe, thinly sliced fresh pork belly makes a great riff on this dish for both, to stuff or to wrap it in:
Some words on side courses:
– Excellent with simple green peas and some other steamed or sautéed veggies extra, like zucchini, broccoli, sprouts, etc.;
– Out of this world with the side course of warm sautéed leeks and carrots  and/or olive salad; 
– Festive with Waldorf;
– Light and easy with simple green watercress salad;
– Groovie with classic potato salad,
and many more…
Yields: 1 to 2 portions depending on the trout size or your appetite. Multiply the ingredients accordingly.
1 small to medium size fresh trout, gutted and cleaned (deboned if necessary)
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1 wedge of lemon to sprinkle (optional)
1 slice of bacon/lard, cut in cubes (optional)
1 small red bell pepper, diced (optional)
2-3 pieces of cured ham (Serrano, Proscuitto, etc.) thinly sliced
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Season the trout with salt and pepper, sprinkle with lemon inside out and set aside.
Heat the skillet to medium high, add bacon and fry it for 2-3 minutes. Add red bell pepper to the skillet and continue frying for another 2-3 minutes. Transfer to the plate and let cool. Keep the liquid bacon fat leftover in the skillet for the next step.
Pat-dry trout with paper towels and stuff the cavity with bacon-red pepper mix.  Wrap the trout with cured ham making sure the cavity with the stuffing is well closed.
Re-heat the same skillet to medium high. Add olive oil and warm it through. Place the trout wrapped in ham carefully into the skillet. Cook on each side for 5-7 minutes, lowering the heat a bit if necessary to make sure the fish is cooked through. Enjoy with some light vegetable side dish!
TROUT STUFFED WITH HAM (Trucha a la Riohana)
Yields: 1 to 2 portions depending on the trout size or your appetite. Multiply the ingredients accordingly.
1 small to medium size fresh trout, gutted and cleaned (deboned if wish be)
Sea salt and pepper to taste
2-3 pieces of cured ham (Serrano, Proscuitto, etc.) thinly sliced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Season the trout with salt and pepper. Pat dry the trout with paper towel. Stuff the cavity with ham.  Heat the same skillet to medium high. Add olive oil and warm it through. Place the trout carefully into the skillet. Cook on each side for 5+ minutes, lowering the heat a bit if necessary to make sure the fish is cooked through. Enjoy with some light vegetable side dish!

Say Sardine: Part I

It’s fun to catch the last glimpse of summer having a little Grilled Sardines alfresco party. Succulent, fatty and so-Mediterranean, freshly grilled sardines taste totally different from canned and are sometimes called ‘’brain food’’ for their high nutritional value. Sardines are packed with Omega 3, B-vitamins, selenium, niacin, calcium and many other good things, and, are unbelievably tasty.

Which is why, their lusty grilled aroma remains as alluring as ever all along the beaches of, practically, any Mediterranean country (and, of course, Portugal). Who can ever forget the traditional Malaga’s chiringuito experience with sardines skewered on bamboo sticks and grilled over the drift wood in an old fishing boat berthed in the sand? Or Lisbon’s favourite open-air salt-packed sardinhas grelhadas served with a simple potato, tomato and grilled capsicum salad?
Curiously, my first grilled sardines know-how hails from one disastrous dim-sum dining experience. The story is actually worth telling. Imagine a cold winter Sunday morning. You read an article from a major press (La Presse), which goes: ‘’… you can have tons of delicious treats and a mountain of crisp-fried sardines at this place for just a few dollars … will make you come back to this newly opened dim-sum restaurant again and again…’’ Yumm, sounds so attractive! Sure enough, I go to check out the place. When I arrive the place is packed, so I park myself between the doors with many others. Next thing I notice, I am squeezed between people who all have well-spread herpes labialis (cold sore) on their face. I feel threatened. My first instinct tells me to ‘’FLEE’’, but my perseverance wins so I just cover my face with the scarf and try not to breeze. I think about the reward I am about to get – sardines… My turn comes up and I am rushing into a crowded dining hall to be placed among other sardine lovers. A grim-faced female server stops by my table, says something in Chinese and hands me down few baskets from her cart. I ask her if I can have some sardines. The woman gives me the stink eye and leaves without an answer. I take a bite of the gluey samples in hope that sardines are coming with the next cart. The slippery-cold bock choy and dumplings which taste like a cross between radish burp and slime bring me back to the thought that, perhaps, leaving the place at once was not such a bad idea. But I am on the mission to get sardines… Another elderly server comes by and slides down something fried that looks like pig-ear crisp, although can be a sliced cardboard soaked overnight and deep-fried this morning. I begin to speak louder and gesticulate to make it clear that I want sardines and I don’t see them among the dishes served. She answers something in Chinese (again) and drifts away with her cart leaving me no options but to go look for a manager. I find him in the steamy kitchen which smells like rotten cabbage and can convert to a ‘’Day of the Sorcerer’’ movie set in a snap.  He confirms to me that they run out of sardines (what?!).  More than ‘’a few dollars’’ short, I leave the place praying not to develop a sore on my lip…  But I am now even more determined to get bloody sardines. I have two options: I can go high-end (Fereira Café, or similar) and be treated for sure, OR, I can go to La Mer (the fish market) and buy some fresh sardines and cook them myself. And since my belly is bloated with crap which La Presse journalist called ‘’delicious treats’’, and my daily resto budget is gone, I do the latter.  Voilà, with a bit of patience, garlic, lemon, olive oil and salt I finally succeed to have a mountain of freshly-roasted sardines for a few dollars indeed. I celebrate this with Rhapsody in Blueand a glass of chilled Rosé…
My point is, as long as you can buy two pounds of frozen sardines at $2.99 (at marche Adonis, for example), you don’t have to go through my try-&-fail dining experience and can successfully feed a small army on a budget with some of the following fool-proof tips. 
Frozen sardines are much easier to clean than fresh: use your fingers to shave the scale in a bowl of water (I find using the back of the knife still breaks the tender flesh); slit the underbelly and pull the guts out while the fish is still half-frozen. Leave the head and tail on or cut them off if you prefer. For fresh sardines and more elaborate technique of making sardine butterflied (en papillote), follow these tips. I personally don’t like to fiddle with that, especially when sardines are to be grilled: the bones play the major role in developing umami during the cooking process. Here are some of my favorite ways to cook and serve grilled sardines:
International: marinated in lemon/garlic/parsley/olive oil/salt/pepper sauce for 15-30 minutes, grilled on medium-high for 3 minutes on each side. Excellent with carrot-leeks side dish.
Portuguese: simple and fast – encrust sardines with layers of kosher salt; keep in the fridge for an hour or so, then just wash the salt off, pat dry and throw them on a grill (again, 3 minutes each side). PS: sardines cooked this way are often not gutted (it is best though to apply this technique with fresh sardines). Serve with lemon wedges and simple salad of your choice.
Spanish: in escabeche sauce (mix of olive oil, a bit of red/white vinegar, garlic and herbs simmered for 10 minutes) splashed over the grilled sardines and served cool – utterly delicious and well worth trying.
Greek: wrapped in wine leaves. This is one of my preferred techniques – vine leaf wrap prevents the fat from burning, helps to manipulate the grill easily and keeps the sardine flesh moist. Works well on the frying pan too. 
Good tip: use wilted lettuce or wild grape leaves (popular weed in our backyards, see the image below), if you don’t have real vine leaves handy. (FYI, you can also make an awesome sauce for the grilled meat from wild grapes.) Just collect the biggest wild vine leaves, rinse and simmer them in salted water (2 tablespoons/1 liter) for 5-7 minutes. Drain and let cool before wrapping.
PS: Please do not confuse the wild grapes though with Menispermum Canadense plant which is poisonous. 

 Simple, healthy and unforgettable!
2 lbs (1 kg) or 12-16 medium to large size sardines
12-16 vine leaves in brine, washed
1 lemon, juiced
3 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced (optional)
1/3 teaspoon fresh or dry thyme, minced (optional)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Scale sardines with your fingers under the running water, gut them and wash. Pat dry and rub the fish with a mix of lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and herbs, OR just sprinkle with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Wrap sardines individually with vine leaves rinsed from the brine. Preheat the grill to medium-high. Grill for 3-5 minutes on each side or until flesh flakes well when tested. Serve with lemon wedges, crusty bread, chilled white or rosé and lotsa napkins. OR, serve grilled sardines as meze with a shot of ouzo. Enjoy your alfresco!

Aioli Sauce

This traditional Catalan/Provençalmayonnaise-like sauce packed with garlic is a marvelous accompaniment to many fish, seafood or crudités dishes.
To make it right, try to use the mortar instead of the blender and have all the ingredients at the room temperature as any ingredient of a colder temperature can cause the sauce to separate. Also important is to try to work as slowly as you can.
Aioli Sauce (yields 1 1/2 cups)
4 cloves of garlic peeled and finely chopped
2 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 tablespoon cold water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Add garlic and salt to the mortar bowl and grind slowly with the pestle moving in one direction only. Whisk in the mustard, then the egg yolks. Add half of the oil very slowly while mixing. Once the first half of the oil is incorporated, add the water and the lemon juice whisking constantly. Next slowly add the rest of the oil. The mixture will thicken as you continue to whisk it.