Once upon a time, I was served a whole trout in a fancy restaurant. I whimpered loudly enough for the waiter to notice I wasn’t about to eat anything that stared back at me. He took it back to the kitchen, decapitated it, and I was fine. In fact, I ate all the creme brulee nobody else could finish. I was 15. The end? Not quite.
Now, I love getting a whole fish. First of all, they’re beautiful. Second, fish and shellfish and their kin are just about the only creatures we can eat in a “whole” state, skin and bones and all, as a reminder of what it is that we’re eating. It’s much more natural and psychically helpful than eating a McRib, I think. So I love eating them, but I’ve never before known how to clean them fresh out of the water…until Sunday.
Paul and I have been getting a whole lotta seafood gifts lately. One neighbor bestowed a huge 5-pound filet chunk of amberjack on us, then turned around and invited us to a crawfish boil the next day. We sliced the filet into steaks and bronzed them in a cast iron skillet with lots of butter and spices. And the other day, another neighbor dropped off two speckled trout he’d just caught. We iced them and left them till the next day to do the gutting, and I’m glad we did. We found a great video on the ‘Tube that showed an easy and painless operation that you can do in the kitchen, without all the hoses and bugs and cats coming up to “help you” when you clean fish outside.
Uh, Paul is doing absolutely all the work here. Also, I’m not going to show you any guts.
First, rinse the fish well. Use a table knife to scrape off the scales and discard them, rinsing again. Pretty babies!
Then, snip the cute little fins off with scissors. Bye bye, fins!
Open up the gills with your fingers and snip these off with scissors, too. This part can get bloody if you accidentally cut into the gills instead of get up underneath them, so really try to get down in there.
Then, locate the hole on the bottom side of the fish. The last thing to do is to slice with a sharp knife, starting at this hole and going toward the head. Open him up and pull out the guts, using a spoon to kind of scrape out the last bits. This is totally not gross at all if you use someone else’s hand to do it! Then, rinse the fish very well and place him in a big baking dish to be filled with yummy stuffing (see top of post).
We left our fish on the bone, and that was much better for one of them than the other–one dude had a lot of little bones. But as long as you eat slowly and in good light, it’s easy enough to pick them out as you go. This photo is taken at night and not one of my most beautiful, for sure. But still, this is the finished dish:
- two speckled trout (about 1 pound each), dressed (cleaned & gutted)
- 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- ½ cup finely chopped yellow onion
- ½ a green bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ cup drained canned artichoke hearts, finely chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- ½ pound small shrimp (or chopped large shrimp), peeled and deveined
- 2 teaspoons Creole seasoning (such as Tony Chachere's)
- 1 egg, beaten
- ½ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced
- Preheat oven to 400. Place trout in a large baking dish and keep refrigerated until stuffing is ready.
- Heat 1 Tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat in a medium skillet. Add onion, bell pepper, and celery, and saute about 5 minutes, until starting to soften. Add garlic, artichokes, and a little salt and pepper to taste, and saute another 3 to 5 minutes, until everything is soft. Remove to a medium bowl and set aside.
- In the same skillet, heat the last Tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and season with the Creole seasoning to taste. Stir-fry until just done, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add to the bowl with the vegetables.
- Add the egg and breadcrumbs to the stuffing, stirring well. Fill each fish with stuffing, putting any excess stuffing around the fish in the baking dish. Lay lemon slices on top of the fish, cover with foil, and bake for 15 to 25 minutes, or until the stuffing reaches 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.