I will admit this is the recipe I’ve been waiting for months to cook up. The summer is on us, and what better time is it to cook up some fresh fish?
Now if you’re not familiar with the work of Brian Jacques, I’d like to introduce you to the Redwall series. Jacques’s books center around societies of sentient and civilized woodland creatures in a medieval setting. The best description I can give in recent times is to think Zootopia meets King Arthur. The series and its first book Redwall take the name for an Abbey in this society dedicated to preserving virtues, compassion, and community among all peaceful creatures. Kids will appreciate these books for their creativity (I know I did), adults will love how all immersive the world is as well how they present morals and themes in a non-pandering way. I really cannot recommend them enough.
One particular thing I remember about the Redwall books as a kid (and still enjoy now) are the descriptions of the feasts shared among the woodland folk. Cordials, pies, soups, and pastries of all varieties grace the tables of Redwall Abbey. Brian Jacques even released a cookbook eleven years ago with some of the favorites described in his novels.
If it can be found within the Abbey’s gardens or fish pond, there’s a strong possibility that Brother Hugo the mouse chef will cook it into something amazing. Speaking of whom, this brings me to introduce today’s recipe. When the young mouse and main character Matthias catches a giant grayling fish in the abbey pond for the big feast, Brother Hugo exclaims:
“Bring the white gooseberry wine! Fetch me some rosemary, thyme, beechnuts, and honey, quickly. And now, friends, now,” he squeaked, waving the dandelion wildly with his tail, “I, Hugo, will create a Grayling à la Redwall such as will melt in the mouths of mice. Fresh cream! I need lots of fresh cream! Bring me some mint leaves too.”
One thing to note about how I cook is that I would rather replicate or expand on the taste of a dish from the source material rather than the look. I do this so you can experience the story through flavor by actually being able to find the ingredients at home. Some of the listed above ingredients are not readily available for us here in the States. Though I think the substitutions should be a bit easier for you to find, and I’d let you know that the result is ridiculously delicious and worth it.
Grayling is a freshwater fish related to salmon, said to taste like a very mild trout with a very distinctive thyme-like flavor. This fish can be found in freshwater spots in Europe. I don’t live in Europe, obviously. I opted instead to use whole Rainbow Trout and thyme – both fresh and ground. For the look, I decided to leave the head and tail on the fish. Mind you, the broiling time will not be any different should you choose to fillets instead – just keep in mind to get two per person. Some markets will also clean and debone the fish for you. If you want a challenge and a chance to expand your cooking skills, I recommend this written and this video tutorial on de-boning and butterflying. Just make sure that you ask to have your fish cleaned first!
Gooseberries posses chemical compounds that give them their distinctive aroma. The same compounds are present in sauvignon blanc grapes after fermentation. With this in mind, I splashed some sauvignon blanc wine on the fish before broiling and simmered more wine in a saucepan with fresh thyme and mint before thickening with fresh cream and a blonde roux.
So beechnuts are not normally sold commercially except as oil. They do, however, taste like hazelnuts which you should be able to find at Whole Foods or Sprouts. So for a sweet and savory crunch, I honey-roasted some hazelnuts and crumbled then in the food processor with some fresh rosemary.
So here, at last, a Grayling à la Redwall that will melt in the mouths of mice… and men.
Grayling à la Redwall
Equipment: Oven, aluminum foil, large baking sheet, small baking tray or roasting pan, food processor
- cooking spray
- 2 rainbow trout, cleaned, gutted, and butterflied (or 4 fillets with skin on)
- 1 tablespoon sauvignon blanc
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- pinch salt
- black pepper
Wine Cream Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 cup sauvignon blanc
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 large branch fresh thyme
- 1 sprig fresh mint
- 3/4 teaspoons ground thyme
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- salt and pepper to taste
Honey Roasted Hazelnuts:
- 1/4 cup shelled hazelnuts
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
- pinch salt
- Preheat oven to 400 F. Line the baking tray or roasting pan with foil and pour in hazelnuts. Roast nuts 7-10 minutes until golden brown. Remove tray from oven and transfer nuts to a dish after about a minute or two of cooling.
- Stir in honey and salt until fully coated and scrape mix back onto lined baking tray. Roast another 3 minutes in the oven before removing to let cool completely.
- Start making the sauce by melting butter in the saucepan. Whisk flour in until smooth and the roux starts bubbling. Scrape roux into a separate dish and put the saucepan back on the stovetop. Pour in the wine and bring to a boil with the mint, garlic, and thyme (both fresh and ground). Cover and reduce the heat to low. Let simmer about 15 minutes.
- Remove herb sprigs and discard. Pour in the cream and whisk in the roux until the sauce has thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat and cover pan to keep warm.
- Line large baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. Transfer the butterflied fish to the sheet and drizzle 1/2 tablespoon of wine on the flesh of each. Season with salt and pepper, dot with butter and place a sprig or two of mint or thyme on top.
- Broil the fish on high 3-5 minutes until the flesh is opaque and flakes easily. Remove herb sprigs and discard.
- Transfer hazelnuts to food processor with rosemary leaves and pulverize until the consistency of large breadcrumbs. Transfer fish with a large spatula to plates, smother with sauce and sprinkle with the crushed nuts before serving.