Want to impress someone important? Serve this scrumptious nibble with Champagne before dinner and act like it’s no big deal.
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As always whenever I codify a recipe, I researched extensively and explored the differences and the common denominators among the various versions. In doing so, I found that the multitude of smoked trout spread recipes generally fall within two categories– those based on cream cheese, and those not.
I veered away from the cream cheese versions for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I have developed through experience a sense that anything based on cream cheese automatically becomes flavored cream cheese, a homogeneous schmear for one’s morning bagel. Now, I love my Sunday morning toasted everything slathered with flavored cream cheese as much as the next guy (or should I say goy) but I wanted something more sophisticated… a pre-dinner amuse-bouche better paired with Champagne than your morning coffee… something suitable for high tea with the royals, unlikely though that may seem. (Interesting story– Andrea and I were once invited by a branch of the Vanderbilts to an intimate yet formal lunch at their Berkshire mansion, complete with butlers in tuxedos. To this day we have no idea why the hell we were there, but we went and just kept our mouths shut and took it all in.)
The other reason I’m cream cheese-averse? I once worked for an alleged chef at a major hospitality destination who used cream cheese in his kitchen like an auto mechanic uses WD-40– as a quick fix for just about any problem he encountered. Me? I strive to keep everything real– and if I come up with a hack, I’ll happily identify it as such.
So, having settled on a mayonnaise-sour cream base, I narrowed down and tinkered with a set of ingredients and techniques that would please the mouth from multiple directions, presenting a balance of lively flavors and pleasing textures. Furthermore, it had to be moist but not runny, capable of holding together on a cucumber slice. Here’s what I came up with–
This mixture held together beautifully– no runs or drips.
¾ cup Mayonnaise
½ cup Sour Cream
1 Shallot, Finely Minced
½ - ⅔ Cup Finely Diced Celery (Love that “micro-crunch!”)
1 Medium-sized High-Quality Dill Pickle, Finely Diced
2 Tablespoons Prepared Horseradish
Mix well all the above, then add the flesh from (2) ¼ lb. Smoked Trout Fillets, chopped into pieces just small enough to mingle nicely while remaining the most prominent textural component.
Now, you can catch your own trout and smoke it; or you can buy fresh trout fillets and smoke them yourself… OR you can buy boneless smoked trout like this–
Ducktrap is an especially nice line of smoked seafood products.
At first the final mixture might seem too “wet,” but give the trout meat a little time to absorb some of the excess moisture and it should be fine.
Serve on cucumbers (as shown) or crustless toast, or even in endive leaves. It can also be presented as a dip with celery sticks.
If you’re pairing this with bubbly (which I think a perfectly wonderful idea) opt for lighter, crisper versions. Please consider aiming a little higher than Italian Prosecco and a little lower than French Champagne itself– American-made Blanc de Blancs from Schramsberg, Gruet, and others are exponentially more complex than Prosecco and yet much better values than their fancy French cousins.
And if you’ve caught your own trout right here in the Finger Lakes region and smoked it yourself, then you are perfectly positioned to practice what I call “regional affinity,” i.e., pairing wine and food from the same region. That’s because many of the wineries that rim the trout-rich lakes Cayuga, Seneca, Keuka, and Canandaigua bottle high quality, Champagne-style sparkling wines… more-than-worthy successors to the giant “champagne” producers that were once the bedrock of the Finger Lakes wine industry.
This was a quality tipple from a major Finger Lakes operation back in the day.
And finally, if bubbly isn’t your thing, consider pairing this smoked trout & horseradish spread with a dry Gewürztraminer– an often misunderstood variety that nonetheless yields deliciously complex, full-bodied whites spunky enough to stand up to hardwood smoke. (I previously posited in The Royal Sisterhood that white wine varieties can be correlated to types of women; if so, then Gewürztraminer is a fearless, freckle-faced redhead who can beat up your brother.)