Fête de Saint Jean and Trout façon Poissonchat

I have almost missed it, the summer solstice, or the fête de Saint Jean, as it is called here. It all went a little fast, spring, a bit of travelling, peonies blooming. Only when we lighted our own out-of-doors-cooking-wild-fire-because-finally-it’s-not-raining I realised that half the year is past. It seems though we had done the right thing by instinct, for that’s what one’s supposed to do when the year turns, burn what’s no longer needed, and welcome the new episode with a boum. 

For those of you who already are familiar with my blog, you may know well how smitten I am with my wood fired stove (aka the beast) that sits in the monstrous fireplace in my French kitchen. However, with summer temperatures being well over 30° C these days, the beast is having a rest. After all, the kitchen is the coolest room in the house, I rather not turn it into a furnace. Instead, we simply move the whole ménage outside, down to the river Saône’s banks, where the waters’ chill pleasantly stirs the stifling heavy late afternoon air. We start with an apéro of crispy millefeuille with goat cheese and a nice glass of white wine, followed by some fried gnocchi de semoule with a ricotta and nettle filling. 

The sun is setting, and meanwhile, the fire has done its magic spitting out a bunch of fiery blazing coals, just the thing we need. I had cured a pink trout fillet the other day, with a clin d’oeuil to nordic ways of preserving salmon and other fish. It’s rather easy, though a little messy. Which is the fun part, if you ask me.

The basic recipe for a truite façon Poissonchat is as follows:

  • 1 fresh pink trout or salmon fillet with skin. The ones I use usually are around 500g. Ensure the fish is appropriately scaled and deboned and rinse the fillet in cold water before processing.
  • 100g of honey
  • 50g of sea salt
  • A couple of juniper berries
  • A couple of pink pepper berries
  • 1 dl of Mirabelle eau de vie or any other strong alcohol you think will go well with the fish
  • A generous hand full of fresh dill

In a mortar, grind the sea salt and juniper berries, then add the honey, the rest of the salt and the Mirabelle. Pour the mass into a flat plate the size of your fillet. Note that during curing, the fish might draw water, hence it’s recommended your plate is a few fingers deep. 

Place the trout fillet on top of the mass, with the skin down. You may scoop some of the mass on the fish, depending on how strong you wish the cure to be. Put the dill on the fillet and  cover everything well. I use plastic foil for this purpose, not yet having found any ecological substitute that works. Put it into the fridge and let it soak for at least 12h. Generally, the longer it soaks the stronger its taste, however, I wouldn’t recommend to leave it for more than 48h. You may feel the skin starting to get a typical leathery texture. Rinse it well under fresh running water. Dry it for a few hours in a dark and cool place. 

The trout now keeps a few days in the fridge, you may serve it for example with grilled bread, crème fraîche and a squeeze of lemon. For the fête de Saint Jean, however, we had decided to take the process a little further by a hint of smoke and fire. To this end, the cured trout is nailed on a wooden board and placed near the open fire. For the actual smoking, we use a bunch of old dried herbs no longer needed now that the garden provides an abundance of fresh ones. Juniper twigs, some dried oregano and fennel leaves in particular. Note that the fish shouldn’t cook but only gently be enveloped in the fumes of the smoking herbs. 

For our purposes, we smoke the trout about as long it takes to grill a batch of sliced eggplant and zucchini, rubbed with olive oil that I perfumed with fresh herbs for three days, as well as some fresh violet onions along.

Serve with a warm olive oil and lemon emulsion. 

Oh and for dessert we have tiramisu. With armagnac. Heavenly. The recipe will follow!

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