Sometimes after a long day of writing my mind is gripped by strange ideas about food — strange in the sense that they don’t involve Swiss cheese and crackers or peanut butter sandwiches or frozen meatloaf dinners.
One day, as it happened, I was reading a piece by Mr. Ernest Hemingway about trout fishing in Europe. In it he described a method of cooking trout he had encountered in Switzerland at rural inns. It involved boiling the trout until it turned blue in a liquor made of water, white wine vinegar, bay leaves and red pepper — not too much of any ingredient in the water, says Mr. Hemingway, without further elaboration.
This is not the blue trout described by M. F. K. Fisher, which involves placing the trout live into boiling water, unless the Swiss innkeepers were holding out on Mr. Hemingway, but it sounded fine.
I remembered that my local supermarket sometimes offers fresh
rainbow trout, so I headed over there late at night and found one
handsome specimen in the fish department. I brought it home, filled up
a large pot with water — it was a large trout — emptied about six
ounces of white wine vinegar into the water, added six fragrant bay
leaves and a light sprinkling of cayenne pepper, and set it all to
boil. When it was bubbling I slipped the fish in.
I turned the heat down and simmered the trout for about fifteen minutes. In
fully boiling water, ten or less would have been more than sufficient. I
tested the fish using a method recommended by an old edition of The
Joy Of Cooking — which is to separate the meat from the bone of the
spine at the thickest middle section of the fish. When the meat there
is tender but no longer translucent, the fish is done.
I ate the fish with drawn butter, as Mr. Hemingway says the Swiss did. “They drink the clear Sion wine when they eat it,” adds Mr. Hemingway, but they don’t depend on the beverage department of a supermarket for their wine. I made do with a perfectly respectable Pinot Grigio by Bolla, cheap, dry and light. I keep looking for the clear Sion wine, though — Sion, pictured below, is the primary wine-producing region of Switzerland:
Even without the Swiss wine, the result was a meal of almost unimaginable delicacy. Trout is delicate anyway, and the light seasonings in the water only emphasized the subtlety of its taste. It all resonated on the tongue like a memory of food — insubstantial and fleeting.