john alma’s trout almandine
My post on sole almandine reminded my mother that I have been anxiously awaiting my grandmother’s recipe for trout almandine. This is a fabulous dish, and I believe that trout is abundant in the markets right now.
I remember thoroughly enjoying the French/Creole dishes prepared by John Alma (my grandmother on my father’s side); smothered quail at Christmas, the richest French onion soup, spicy gumbo and jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, and my favorite, trout almandine… They were delicious – the amount of butter prolific. These were pretty fancy dishes coming from a woman who claimed she ate black-eyed peas every day of her childhood. My mother also cooked many recipes that came from John Alma and the wholly unique culinary culture that emanates from New Orleans and the Delta South. The smell of flour and oil browning in a pan instantly transports me to a time when I had to stand on my tip toes to peek at the roux that one of these talented women was carefully stirring.
I was reminded of the extensive culinary diversity of New Orleans during a recent visit. The city is rich with the most vibrant and ostentatious food, overflowing with accidental fusion cuisine. France, Spain, Italy, Haiti, the West Indies – all stake a claim to the food that Louisiana is famous for. The bizarre landscape of this swampy state provides some interesting star players for the main course; turtles, frogs, squirrels, fish of every size shape and color…nothing is safe. Put all of this together and you have some spicy, steamy, intense food. No worries. You can balance the savory with the sweet; my personal preference being a hot, fluffy biscuit doused in cane molasses, or a sticky bread pudding spiked with rum or bourbon. Only in Louisiana can you have food that is at the same time elegant and wacky.
It is only through cooking that I continue to discover the subtle influence my early years in Louisiana have on the dishes I now prepare. Believe it or not, I can clearly remember sucking down crawfish, raw oysters, beignets and cafe au lait from my highchair. Some would scoff at a three year old eating raw oysters and drinking coffee from a sippy cup. Not me! I couldn’t be more grateful for my dive head first into some serious food. I am not only thankful for being exposed to something other that fish sticks and mac and cheese, but also for having recipes that have been prepared by at least two generations of women in my family. Thankfully, I have fabulous cooks on both sides of the family. I’ve also had the very good fortune of living in three states with completely different styles of cuisine; California, Texas and Louisiana. Even as I am writing, I am flooded with the best memories of eating or watching my mother, grandmother or aunt fixing something delicious. These memories are still so near and close to my heart that they actually have a fragrance – the image of the food and hustle bustle in the kitchen flawlessly clear in my mind’s eye.
But back to the topic at hand, which is the most delicious and delicate trout you will ever eat. My mom expertly prepared the freshest trout – typically just caught from Lake Ponchartrain by my proud father and his best buddy. Even cooked from the tiny kitchen of a Residence Inn, my mom could turn out some trout that tasted as if was prepared by the most accomplished chef in the finest kitchen. It was one of my absolute favorites and I could never get enough of it.
Below is John Alma’s recipe with a few of my mother’s minor alterations, posted exactly as provided to me. Mom has never prepared this dish with stream trout; only the fat, speckled trout from Lake Ponchartrain. No matter; you can always imagine that your trout was swimming in that vast Louisiana lake mere hours ago. A few other notes from my mother: “There is nothing low calorie, fat or carb about this recipe! Do not modify, it alters the soul of this dish! Just enjoy its buttery deliciousness without guilt…”
I couldn’t agree more.
john alma’s trout almandine
- 6 mediums size trout, filleted (you can substitute redfish fillets if trout is unavailable)
- 1 tsp. season salt (I use Nature’s Seasons, it is very well balanced and doesn’t overwhelm)
- 1/4 tsp. ground Savory
- 1/4 tsp. ground Turmeric
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/4 tsp ground Mace
- 1 pack (2 1/2 oz.) slivered blanched almonds
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp finely chopped Italian parsley
- thin lemon slices for garnish
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Place baking sheet or serving platter in oven to prewarm.
- Melt butter in sauté pan until foam subsides and it barely starts to brown. NOTE: Watch carefully that butter doesn’t burn. If butter has very dark granular specks, it has burned! Throw it away, clean pan, and start again.
- Roll freshly washed (slightly patted dry) trout fillets in mix of season salt, savory, turmeric and flour. Only flour as many as will fit in your sauté pan at one time.
- Brown fillet in butter on both sides (about 2 minutes per side, depending on size of fillet). Place cooked fillets on warming dish or baking sheet in oven as they finish. Place skin side down if skin is still on fillet, they look prettier that way. Place a piece of loose foil over warming dish of fish to preserve moistness if cooking a lot of fillets.
- Cook remaining fillets in batches until all are on warming dish.
- Add additional butter to sauté pan if needed for sauce. Turn heat to low and melt butter and add mace and almonds. Stir constantly and lightly sauté almonds. They will burn easily if left unattended. Turn off heat and stir in lemon juice and parsley.
- Keep fillets on warming dish or place fillets on warmed serving plate, or individual plates. Place thin lemon slices on fillets. Spoon sauce over fish, any remaining sauce may be placed on the table in a bowl for spooning on fish or side dishes.
More of mom’s notes:
The flavor of this dish is very delicate and relies on the turmeric, savory and mace with a browned butter foundation. I have tried to use oil and low fat substitutes for all or part of the butter and it didn’t work, the taste was not the same.
I have never cooked this with freshwater stream trout (rainbow, golden, etc.), only with pretty big trout from Lake Ponchartrain. I think that the trout down there are speckled trout and the fillets were about 1/2 lb. each.
I would serve this with a mild flavored spring vegetable such as fresh sautéed green beans. A strong flavored vegetable such as broccoli will overwhelm the delicate flavor of the fish and sauce. Wild and Basmati mixed rice, Jasmine rice or my favorite, Konriko wild pecan rice are really good with the fish.