In a culinary world where chefs quest for new commodities and methods of cookery it is understandable that the idea of cooking with trout does not purvey the concept of modern cuisine. Nor does it really spark the culinary imagination. This is certainly the way I felt - until I encountered the fish form Rushing Waters.
In the heart of the Wisconsin countryside - Palmyra to be exact you can discover Rushing Waters Fishery. Rushing Waters is a trout farm with a difference. It is an operation that is focused on quality not quantity. A rare philosophy in the fish business - an industry that operates with tight profit margins, high freight costs and a diminishing commodity.
Rushing Waters was founded way back in the 1930's.With a deep underground artesian spring providing a constant source of pristine fresh water for several trout ponds. It was not until the 1970's however that volume production began. Now the farm's eighty acres plays host to the fifty trout ponds allowing the production of three to four thousand pounds of trout each week.
Like many other trout farms their business was based around producing as much fish as possible. But in 1997 Rushing Waters changed direction in the way it operated. "A good volume of fish was being raised and sold, but we needed something that was going to set us apart from the other farms" farm manager Peter Fritsch explains. "Whilst at the University of Wisconsin I had become interested in the concept of utilizing organic practices in conjunction with raising trout. When I joined the team here I introduced the idea and we have never looked back".
This concept was not only based on product but also profit. The idea of providing a fish supply that was of superior quality and raised with organic concepts gave the sales team a unique commodity to market. Helping to bring a menu item from yesteryear back in vogue - under the worthily hyped halo of sustainability.
Production of the farm's trout begins with shipments of trout eggs from their supplier in Seattle. From that point on their development is in the hands of the farm's team. Once the eggs hatch they held in indoor tanks for the first six months. When the fish are large enough to hold their own in the outside world they are sterilized. This practice is in place to stop any potential escapees from spawning with wild trout - which would interfere with the natural genetics of the species. Then they are transferred to an outside pond.
The trout ponds have a rustic look to them. Each pond is covered with gaping mesh to fight off any unwanted diners to the farm. Blue Herons and Belted King Fishers are regular visitors. The mesh has been effective in stopping the would-be poachers - however there have been recent occasions where birds have got tangled up. So now several other experimental pond coverings have been introduced with the hope that they will be equally effective but less hazardous.
Cash hungry students - and not chemicals clear pond weed. In waters that are toxin free tasty wild watercress and aquatic bugs can flourish. The main source of the fishes—diet comes in the form of a processed fish feed - here is where the farm raised /sustainable fish debate begins. In many instances it can take up to three pounds of fish protein to raise one pound of fish. This equation leaves industry professionals with the notion that the only way to incorporate a sustainable seafood program in to their menu is to use wild fish such as line caught cod or striped bass. Rushing Waters overcomes this challenge using a feed that is only 40% animal protein - the source of that protein comes from a Canadian herring farm. The herrings are raised for their roe and not their flesh and once they have fulfilled that initial function they go on to perform another.
"When I receive the trout it is always in pristine condition. It has a delicate flavor and a light flaky texture" - chef Sarah Stegner
The farm's investment in their stock does not stop at just keeping their water pure; " The fish are raised with out using antibiotics. " No food colorings are added to their feed leaving the fish with flesh ivory white in color and not the "fantastic orange" color we have come to expect. " The water temperature of the ponds remains a constant 48°. What this means for the farm is that they will need eighteen to twenty months to produce a one pound trout. If the water temperature was bumped up to 60° the same weight fish could evolve within eight months. But for the consumer a slower growth rate means a natural, firm fleshed fish with less "grain" running through it - in short a better product.
For a restaurant these unique features provide a tangible reason for service staff to explain and highlight the use of the fish. Eliminating that infamously nauseating service pitch of "this is one of my favorite dishes on the menu".
Sarah Stegner chef of The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Chicago has been incorporating Rushing Water's trout on her menu for over a year. "When I receive the trout it is always in pristine condition. It has a delicate flavor and a light flaky texture". Says Stegner " I think it is great to be able to support a local fisher that is conscious of protecting the environment and have a super high quality product.
The final beauty of the farm's fish is their attention to freshness. If you call in an order today the fish will be taken from the pond, graded, cut and shipped tomorrow. Your fish will arrive boneless with a "harvested" date on each bag. Any purveyor reselling Rushing Waters' product has to commit to pass it on the same way. In some cases this has meant the farm has not be able to work with certain fish houses "if they (the fish house) do not want to resell the trout with the harvest date intact - we will not sell to them. There is no point in putting in all this work to provide the best product and allowing the energy to go to waste at the hands of someone else" Peter explains. " Profit comes with a great product - it just takes a little more time"..
By Jeremy Emmerson www.GlobalChefs.com
Slow Poached Trout with Shaved Avocado
4 x 4oz Trout Fillets 16oz Olive Oil 2ea Avocados 2oz Frisée Lettuce 2oz Watercress 2oz Mâche Lettuce 1Red Pepper - roasted peeled and de-seeded Salt & Pepper 4 sprigs of Thyme 4 sprigs of Chervil 4 pc of Chive 1ea Lemon
Basic Vinaigrette 6oz Light Olive Oil or Salad Oil 2oz Balsamic vinegar 1/2oz Dijon Mustard Salt & Pepper
For this recipe you will only need one ounce of vinaigrette. It is rather difficult to such a small quantity well so I would suggest making a larger batch and keeping the remainder in the refrigerator.
Method - Place the mustard and vinegar in a small bowl add a pinch of salt and pepper and drizzle in the olive oil to emulsify. Dice the red pepper and place in a blender. Set at high-speed; puree and then incorporate two ounces of olive oil - season to taste and strain. Place the remaining olive oil in to a small pot and add the thyme. Place a thermometer in the oil and warm to 120º. Trim the trout fillets and submerge them in the oil. Cooking should take about six minutes. Peel and shave the avocado and arrange the thin slices in the center of your serving plates. Toss the salad leaves with the basic vinaigrette. Remove the trout once cooked, pat dry and peel off the skin. Season the fish and squeeze a little lemon juice over the fillets. Arrange the salad leave and trout on the plate and drizzle with the red pepper puree. Garnish with the chives and chervil.
Sautéed Rainbow Trout & Fennel Reduction
8x4oz Trout Fillets 12ea Fingerling Potatoes - cooked and peeled 2ea Red Peppers - roasted and peeled 1oz Chopped Chives 1ea Butternut Squash 16oz Fennel Stock 2oz Butter 1# Baby Spinach 1ea Shallot - finely chopped 4 sprigs of thyme 4 sprigs of chervil 1oz Olive Oil Salt & Pepper
With this recipe I chose to sauté the trout fillets skin side down. With this method you can achieve a very tasty crispy skin. Additionally this recipe proves to be very healthy. I sautéed the fish with a little olive oil in a nonstick pan and reduced some fennel stock for the sauce. The fennel stock was left over from some fennel bulbs that I had been braising - I finished it with just a speck of butter.
Method - Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds and inner veins. Cut each half into a nice rectangle brush with olive oil season and place on a tray. Peel and de-seed the squash. Cut the flesh ¼ inch dice gently sauté with a ¼ ounce of butter - when the squash is half cooked add the fennel stock. Reduce the stock allowing the squash to cook. When the stock has reduced taste the squash to if it is cooked then finish the sauce with ½ ounce of butter and half of the chives. (Tip: if the squash is not cooked enough and the sauce is reduced then you may add a little water and carry on cooking process.) Cut the potatoes in half and sauté with a ½ ounce of butter, once they are ready sprinkle them with the other half of the chives. Sauté the shallots add the spinach allow this to wilt and season.
In a nonstick pan - sear the trout skin side down then turn down the gas allowing the heat to permeate though.
Warm the roasted pepper rectangles place them on the plates with the potatoes on top, quenelle the spinach arrange the trout drizzle the sauce and garnish with the herbs&.