Updated: Aug 5, 2022
(Or Almondine… Or Almandine… Or Amandine)
Whatever we call it, boneless rainbow trout and almonds make a really great combination.
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It shows up in cookbooks and on menus everywhere, with multiple spellings. Jacques Pepin sticks to consistent French with his “Truite Amandine,” which he translates to perfect English as simply “Trout with Almonds.” (Recipe unavailable for redistribution; you need to get your hands on the actual book– See Jacques Pepin: New Complete Techniques: Revised Edition of the Classic Work.) Most recipes for this dish are linguistic mongrels, e.g., Martha Stewart’s TROUT ALMANDINE. One commonly sees “Trout Amandine,” an allowable mix of English and French so long as the foreign word is italicized.
What they all have in common is trout and almonds… and, unfortunately, flour. In keeping with modern culinary sensibilities, we’ve attempted a version WITHOUT flour. But first, a little background.
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Among the Ivy-educated, ruling-class/trust-fund elite, the trout enjoys more positive cachet than, say, its freshwater brethren like bass or perch. The very word “trout” conjures imagery of babbling New England brooks and tweedy old fly fishermen. Winslow Homer (1836-1910) is famous for his watercolors of trout fishermen with fly rods, not of rednecks reeling in catfish between beers. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
Furthermore, the rainbow trout is blessed with a great name… who among us, after all, doesn’t love rainbows? (Click HERE for an early and especially beautiful, instrument-only take on the Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow”-- essentially a duet with Stones founder Brian Jones on horn-like mellotron and rock-n-roll piano god Nicky Hopkins.) And “rainbow” is a legit piscatorial name, not one of those faux fish-marketing monikers like “Chilean Sea Bass” for what is actually “Patagonian Toothfish.” Rainbow trout, you see, really do sport rainbows–
Rainbow trout also lend themselves to fish farming better than nearly all other fish. Aquaculture affords control over product size, and small freshwater fish can be raised to exact proportions. One of the greatest contributions to culinary technology was the invention of the trout de-boning machine. (My patent search located an application in the mid-1990’s, but I recall serving completely boneless trout at least a decade earlier.) Thus processed, boneless rainbow filets cook quickly and easily. And that, along with their catchy name, makes them perfect for restaurants.
Which brings us back to “Trout with Almonds” by that or any other name. First, the trout itself–
Commercially available trout filets come boned with either the head on or the head removed. Unless you like to eat trout heads, you probably shouldn’t buy them. (To be fair, the head-on version makes for a traditional presentation when serving both sides of a fish and also looks better in stuffed trout recipes.) This producer’s website spells out the typical purchasing options. A pair of their 5 or 6 oz. filets would make a perfect dinner portion.
(NOTE: Rainbow trout is not naturally pink-fleshed. If you see some that is, that means that it has been fed color-producing food at the farm. This just in from a higher-up industry insider in response to my inquiry– “Regarding the color, yes, our supplier uses an all natural colorant added to the feed. They use Astaxanthan, an antioxidant which is derived from Phafia Yeast. After eating this for a few weeks the flesh will begin to take on a reddish hue. This does not affect flavor, it is only for aesthetic purposes.”)
And now for the almonds–
Almonds come in several forms. From vertical bins in the bulk foods section I bought a small bag each of blanched slivered almonds and a similar portion of sliced almonds. By (very) briefly grinding these together (ONE quick pulse, maybe two) I achieved a pleasing appearance and texture, better than if I had used all of one or the other. For complexity of flavor I added a dash of high-quality granulated garlic (NOT mere garlic powder.)
In the absence of the usual flour dusting that produces a crust, we need to get the almonds to firmly adhere to the trout… yet another use for the wonderful egg, perhaps the most versatile ingredient in the world. I blended two eggs and poured them into a pyrex baking dish, which was perfectly proportioned for coating the filets. After the egg bath, I firmly pressed the trout (flesh side only) into the chopped almond mixture that I had scattered on an oval plate.
Most Trout w/ Almonds recipes call for the sauté pan, while a few are baked. I like to do both– I seared the almond sides until the almonds turned a lovely golden brown, and then gave the skin a brief sear before transferring them to the baking dish I just cleaned and dried after the egg bath. This visits a 350º oven for no more than five minutes.
I figured that an elegant sauce was in order, so before doing all this I made Lemon Beurre Blanc, a fabulous accompaniment for nearly everything that swims. Here is an adaptation of the recipe I posted in my earlier piece about oysters–
Sauce Beurre Blanc (white butter sauce) is a classic French sauce for seafood. It also works especially well with asparagus as a lighter but equally decadent alternative to hollandaise. Like hollandaise, it breaks easily and is therefore difficult to hold at an acceptable serving temperature. But unlike hollandaise, beurre blanc can benefit from a simple kitchen hack— adding the butter to a base of reduced cream. (A lot of fancy restaurants do this without telling you.) When you google “beurre blanc,” you’ll see recipes with and without cream. Click accordingly. To summarize, you cook the minced shallot in a bit of butter and then add the wine, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Cook it down until most of the liquid has evaporated, then add the cream. It will bubble and reduce; when it thickens significantly, whisk in the butter and add salt and pepper to taste.
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For a final embellishment I browned some of the sliced almonds in butter, dried them, and sprinkled them atop the sauce. (I would’ve also sprinkled some parsley if I had any.) This dish is a great showcase for white wine, but tread carefully– a ripe and oaky Californian Chardonnay will overwhelm it, so shop in the lower weight classes. It is hard to go wrong with Sauvignon Blanc from anywhere, and dry Rieslings also work well. If you insist on Chardonnay, consider keeping it French. (For DannyM.’s extensive treatise on these three royal varieties, check out The Royal Sisterhood.)