Ocean trout in a froth

Not so long ago, the only place you could get hold of salmon was from the freezers of the big department stores — and it would have arrived there via long and expensive trips from Scandinavia, Canada, and occasionally Scotland. No more. A superbly efficient salmon and ocean-run trout farming industry is flourishing in Tasmania — flourishing in terms of product and availability, still to find its feet financially — and the benefits belong entirely to the consumers.

Tasmania produces two products, North Atlantic salmon and ocean trout, which may differ marginally as far as family lines are concerned, but taste so similar even experts have trouble picking them apart. Then there are the old reliable inland cousins, rainbow trout, heavily farmed, and never ultimately satisfying to my palate, and a new chum, from New South Wales, called brook trout. Rainbow trout is pale and reliable, but never stunning; brook trout is of a fiery colour and slightly finer flake than salmon or ocean trout; Atlantic salmon is usually a rich deep orange in colour and ocean trout is fading towards pink. They are all expensive.

But what the hell. Salmon is the sort of fish you must taste at least once in your life, to know how good it is. I first tasted brilliant wild Scottish salmon in a wonderful, now defunct restaurant in Albertville in the French alps; a decent chunk of the fish was cooked rare, and doused with the most wonderfully balanced of vinaigrettes and delightful fresh herbs. The dish needed nothing more. The fish spoke for itself.

And so it is with these Tassie darlings. Whatever you do with them, keep it simple, and let the fish do the talking. Perhaps the best way to cook them at home is in a very hot pan, lightly oiled. Dip one side of a thick fillet in a little flour, shake away any excess, and then drop the fish, flour side down, into the oil, moving it about so it does not stick. When it is really sizzling, put the pan into a 220°C oven and bake for about 5 minutes, depending on how thick the fish is. Serve with a little salt, some black pepper and a good dredge of lime or lemon juice. If you’ve got some lovely fresh vegetables, tossed in a vinaigrette on side, and some delicious mashed potatoes, you have a perfect dish. But&hellips; sometimes you want to be really flash and show everyone how smart you are. Try this. It’s something between a sauce and a soup. It is times like these when the English language is inadequate. We have all sorts of words to describe the wind — from a flighty zephyr to a fearsome hurricane — but a soup is a soup until it becomes a stew. This is a mix of stock, an egg yolk to provide air and frothiness, a little cream, some vegetables for crunch and some mussels. You can’t have a fishy soup — whether a zephyr soup or the hurricane version — without mussels.

THE MUSSELS 4–5 mussels per portion

a little white wine, if you have some open; water if you don’t

½ lemon, sliced


100g ocean trout per person — If you can’t afford ocean trout, go for a small tuna, or yellowtail, or mackerel. All of these fish have a flesh that requires little cooking. In the case of the tuna, I usually prefer it raw, but for this dish it can be seared on each side. Funnily enough, neither ocean trout nor Atlantic salmon taste remarkable in their raw state. They need that searing process to bring them to their best.


2 egg yolks

1 cup fish stock — If you have none, use the reserved stock from the mussels, straining again to remove any loose sand.

zest of 2 lemons, chopped finely

1 chilli, chopped finely


black pepper

a little cream


Whatever is available is fine. The vegetables are for texture, as well as flavour. Try these:

4 spears of asparagus per portion

1 small leek, sliced along its length, each piece about 10 cm long

some snow peas, sliced along their length

1-2 baby carrots, sliced similarly

1 zucchini, sliced in lengths, thinly tarragon, chopped


Put the mussels in a pot with the wine and lemon slices and cook, covered, just for a few minutes until the mussels have opened. Set aside to cool. Remove the mussels from their shells, discarding any which refuse to open, strain, and retain the mussel stock. Set the mussels aside.


Ask your supplier to bone the fish. If you do it yourself, the way to do it is with a very sharp knife worked closely along the backbone. The trout has tiny bones which then have to be removed carefully by hand. Use eye-brow tweezers.


Slice the fish into pieces about 5 cm wide.You will have fish slices not unlike fish fingers (God forbid the comparison!).


Whisk the egg yolks in a stainless steel bowl over a low heat. (You can do this over a saucepan of boiling water if you wish.)


As the yolks thicken, add a little stock, the lemon zest, the chilli, salt, black pepper and some cream. As the yolks get warmer and you are whisking vigorously, the mix will lighten, becoming frothy and pale. Keep tasting and adding as much stock as you think it needs to reach the right fish/lemon/vegetable flavour. When the flavour is right, set aside in a warm spot. (If you are cooking over boiling water, you could take the saucepan from the heat, allow any accumulated steam to escape, and leave your sauce there. The sauce should never be much above warm, as, if it gets any hotter, the yolks will curdle.)


Pre-heat your oven to its maximum. Warm any stock you have left. If it has all been used for the sauce, slice a lemon into a half litre of water and bring it to the boil. The mussels will be re-heated in this lemon stock.


Cook the asparagus in boiling salted water. They will need only a few minutes, depending on their thickness. Make sure they are cooked more than al dente.


Cook the vegetable julienne in the same water as the mussels. The vegetables will need about 45 seconds.


Heat a little oil in a saucepan which can go into the oven. When the pan is very hot, slide in the salmon (or tuna or yellowtail). After 30 seconds turn the fish over. If the fish is thin, that may be all the cooking that is required. Just leave it in the hot pan, away from the heat, while you prepare your bowls. If the fish is thicker, it will probably need about a minute in the oven. Remember, the retained heat from the cooking process will continue cooking the fish after it has been removed from the heat source. The fish should be served rare to medium, like a fillet steak.


Check the temperature of your sauce as the fish is ‘resting’. If the sauce has cooled too much, whisk it again over the boiling water or the gentle heat, until well warmed through, without being hot.


Arrange the vegetables in a mound in the centre of your bowl. (The fish will sit on top of the mound and should be free of the frothy sauce.) Pour the sauce about the vegetables, place the mussels symmetrically about the mound and put the fish on top, sprinkled with chopped tarragon. If you wish to be really flash, finish the presentation with the asparagus spears crossed on top of the fish.


Remember, you can also serve the fish and the sauce alone, using the same methods. What you have above is rather a special restaurant-style dish. But it tastes just the same without the add-ons.

WINE: You will need a chardonnay with some zip. A lot of Aussie chardon- nays tend to get a bit broad, lacking the ‘backbone’ needed to hold this dish. Have a search for the Pierro Chardonnay from the West or the Prelude from Leeuwin Estate. De Bortoli’s from the Yarra Valley or Tim Knappstein’s are other options.