I'd had two whole rainbow trout languishing in the freezer for some time as it takes quite some convincing to get Rich to eat "fish with bones", but he'd requested a healthy dinner and in the words of Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand, I'd decided: Enough Is Enough, it was trout time. Usually, telling Rich that fish is on the menu for dinner is a surefire way to get myself taken out to a nice restaurant instead but tonight I was determined to get him to become a fan.
A few years ago at a lovely restaurant in Turkey we'd had some kind of large whole fish baked in a salt crust, which was really theatrical, very tasty and he still raves about it now, so I thought this may be the answer to my prayers. Bizarrely, it does not make the fish at all salty, it just cleverly steams it within leaving you with moist, perfectly cooked and seasoned fish. A small amount of googling told me that you basically combine huge amounts of rock salt with some egg white and water and a bit of a seasoning of some description. I already knew I wanted to do an Asian style dish as we've been eating lots of Mediterranean type things lately, so I just grated a bit of orange zest into my salt mixture to give it a bit of zing (I had no lime, which would have been better). I'm not sure on the quantities for the salt mixture, I just used one large egg white and kept adding splashes of water until it was the consistency of a good firm body scrub! You don't want excess liquid, so be careful. Test it out by putting a hefty layer of the salt mixture on an oven tray and make a big well in the middle. If it holds its shape you're probably good to go - if its too wet then pour it back in your mixing bowl and add some more salt and egg white.
Onto the fish: I gutted them as I'd not had the foresight to get the man at the counter to do it. I used to live 5 minutes from Billingsgate market, where you can almost only buy whole fish, so I learnt how to gut and fillet most things then as I was not about to turn down an entire tuna for £5 just because its guts were still intact. Round fish are all very easy though - just turn it belly up, pierce it at the 'chin' and make a deep slit all the way along to the tail. Then, open it up and using a firm hand just pull all the gross innards hard and most of it will come away in one go. You can then get the fiddly bits out when you rinse the fish inside and out. There should be nothing left in the hollow apart from the spine and the bones protecting the flesh, which you can deal with later as its much easier to fillet fish once cooked. I then stuffed my fish with loads of coriander, garlic and some orange wedges and placed them onto my salt well. Heap the rest of the salt over the fish making sure it makes a perfect seal, as this is what is needed to properly cook them. My trout were not huge, and they took about 20 minutes in a very hot oven. You can tell if they are cooked or not by sticking a knife or skewer through the hard salt and into the fish. The metal should be hot to touch.
I quickly chopped some red pepper, spring onion and chilli and stir fried them with some mange tout, bean sprouts and crushed cashews. Then I decided it looked a bit boring so whacked in some fish sauce and a tablespoon of crunchy peanut butter which livens up anything - it melts down a bit and makes a kind of satay sauce without being wet.
To serve the fish, give the salt crust a few bashes and it should lift away easily in large chunks allowing you to access the cooked fish. I took out my herby orange stuffing and put the whole fish on a plate. Open the fish up from the middle and then you can just lift the main spine bone from the 'neck' down to the tail, leaving you with virtually boneless fillets. If you want to be doubly sure of no bones, then spend a couple of minutes pinboning around the fins with some tweezers (I can never be bothered to do this though). And voila!
The verdict was the trout was a success - apparently I am even allowed to make it again. In hindsight, my stuffing was not fragrant enough so I would add a lot more garlic and actually squeeze some orange (or lime) over the fish before cooking in addition to using wedges in the carcass. But still, delicious! And hardly any calories, especially if you skip the peanut butter.