Thai Foods Ep.2


Crispy Garlic Fish

by Thomas M. Tillman
There are a ton of fish in the sea, or the river, lake, or stream, and as a seafood/fish lover, it's easy to get lost in the variety of options available in the seafood section of my local grocery store. Two of the varieties I find myself bringing home most often are Trout and Salmon. While similar in texture, flavor, and appearance these two fish are quite different. In this guide, I aim to break down the similarities and differences between trout vs salmon. I also hope to shed some light on great cooking techniques for both proteins, as well as some awesome destinations to head to if you are in the mood to catch your own trout or salmon. So let's dive in!

THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN TROUT AND SALMON.

While trout and salmon may look and taste similar they are distinct species of fish. The major difference between the two is that Trout is a freshwater fish, and Salmon is a saltwater fish. Salmon typically has a higher fat content than trout and is almost always larger in size. To best explain the differences between Trout and Salmon I want to go in-depth into what makes each one special. Hopefully, by the end of this guide, you'll be able to identify each fish by sight and have a better command of how best to prepare either type of fish at home!

TROUT

A trout is a group of freshwater fish found primarily in lakes, rivers, and streams. With a large rounded head, and a round body, trout can grow to be up to 30kg or 66 lbs in some cases, but most are much smaller. Trout come in a number of different varieties, from steelhead trout to the more colorful rainbow trout and beyond. While trout may differ in appearance and coloring, they are primarily speckled and have a light pink to orange flesh. Trout normally live for up to 7 years and are known for being a fun fish to catch by anglers from young to old.

WHERE DO TROUT LIVE?

Trout primarily live in streams, lakes, and rivers, they like cooler waters and can be found in freshwater locaters around the world. Some of the most notable trout fishing can be found in North America, and trout can be caught year-round thanks to their ability to withstand the colder waters during the winter. Trout fishermen use a number of different approaches to catch these amazing fish. Two of the most identifiable trout fishing methods would be fly-fishing or ice fishing. Trout are a common fish and easy to find especially in mountainous areas with large freshwater rivers or lakes. Some of the best trout fishing can be found in the Mountain ranges of North American, but there are also plenty of great trout fishing destinations worldwide!

PREPARING TROUT AT HOME.

Trout is delicious and incredibly easy to prepare at home, especially if you are starting with pre-boned filets. Whether you are planning to pan-fry, steam, smoke, or grill your trout, there is a recipe waiting for you to try. When cooking trout at home there are some steps you can take to improve your experience and ensure the best possible results.

1. USE A SHARP FILET KNIFE.

If you are lucky enough to be able to purchase your trout whole or catch your own then you are going to need a sharp filet knife. Fileting fish, especially trout is a simple and straightforward procedure. I like to cut along the fin side of the fish above the spine, rolling the filet off of the fish with the knife as I go, After the first filet is removed I flip the trout over and repeat the process. By using a sharp filet knife you are able to get the cleanest, prettiest cuts possible, resulting in a more even trout filet.

2. REMOVE THE BONES.

Making sure to remove all of the pin bones that reside in the flesh of trout is key to making sure you have the best experience possible. To begin, take your trout filet and run a finger carefully over the flesh to feel for the line of pin bones that runs the length of the filet. Next, use a pair of fish tweezers or needle-nose pliers to carefully remove each of the pin bones. The bones should come free pretty easily, but a little force may be necessary. I like to pinch the bones between my fingers and press down on the flesh to help provide some tension which in turn makes it easier to pull bones free. This may be a little time-consuming but it is key to getting the best texture out of your trout filet.

3. DON'T OVERCOOK YOUR TROUT!

Trout has a light, delicate flesh that is super tender and delicious when prepared correctly. That being said, trout can dry out incredibly quickly and is prone to overcooking especially in the hands of the inexperienced cook. When in doubt cook the trout for less time, if you find our filet is slightly underdone (something that's rarely an issue) you can return it to the pan or oven to finish cooking.

4. DON'T MASK THE FLAVOR.

Trout has a very light and subtle flavor that is incredible but is easily overshadowed by spices, seasonings, or sauces. I like to use simpler more delicate flavors when preparing trout, and often stick to a basic combination of salt, pepper, garlic, lemon, wine, and butter for an easy pan sauce after I've seared my trout filets.

SALMON.

Salmon and trout originate from the same fish somewhere down the line and are both parts of the Salmonidae family of fish. While Trout is a freshwater fish that primarily lives in lakes, rivers, or streams, Salmon is a saltwater fish for most of its life. While Salmon spend the majority of their adult lives in saltwater habitats, they hatch in fresh water and migrate to the ocean. They return yearly in what is called the "run" to procreate. Every year salmon swim upstream in a salmon run to their spawning grounds a phenomenon that happens worldwide in places where salmon populations naturally occur. Like trout, there are a number of different types of salmon, from Scottish salmon to sockeye salmon and king salmon, and many others. The majority of salmon flesh is orange in color, from a light pinkish-orange in some cases, to the deep almost red/orange of sockeye salmon.

WHERE DO SALMON LIVE?

Salmon populations exist worldwide, from Patagonia to Portland, Oregon. Native to the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans, Salmon is a heavily farmed fish and populations have been introduced into a number of non-native locations. Salmon is considered an anadromous species of fish, and they live in multiple habitats throughout their life span. Salmon are born in freshwater and migrate to the ocean. Salmon return to freshwater tributaries every year during the Salmon Run to procreate.

PREPARING SALMON AT HOME.

Sourcing quality salmon for your home kitchen is an incredibly easy process these days. With so many fresh options available, as well as individually quick frozen choices in your grocer's freezer sections, it's easier than ever to keep high-quality salmon filets on your table any night of the week. When possible I like to prepare salmon fresh at home, and if available I like to buy a side or filet to portion for myself. This helps ensure the highest quality salmon possible and allows me the ability to prepare the filets to my liking. By following these steps I am able to consistently get the best quality salmon possible and create incredible salon entrees that my family raves about.

1. MAKE SURE TO REMOVE ALL THE SCALES.

I like to pan-fry salmon fillets with the skin on, this helps the fish cook evenly, and crispy salmon skin is absolutely delicious but that effect can be ruined by finding a scale left on the skin. Make sure to remove all the scales if you are leaving the skin on the fish, this can be done by scraping the tip of a sharp knife or a fork along the skin against the direction of the scales. Make sure to rinse the filets before patting them dry and cooking them in your preferred method.

2. REMOVE ALL OF THE PIN BONES.

Like trout, salmon has a number of pin bones that run along the length of the filet, though they don't go quite as far down the filet as the trout bones do. You can remove them in the same way by using a pair of fish tweezers or a needle nose plyer. Again press down on the flesh with your fingers to expose the pine bone and carefully pull it out with the tweezers using even consistent force.

3. USE NEW AND UNIQUE TECHNIQUES TO STEP UP YOUR SALMON FLAVOR.

Salmon can be eaten raw or cooked in almost any number of ways. From grilling on cedar planks to pan-searing, or curing and smoking, salmon has so many different applications you'll be hard-pressed to run out of options. I like to use strong, rich flavors, like curry, or spicy marinades to help accentuate the fatty richness of the salmon meat. Salmon can make a great dip or salad or can be used to make cakes like crab cakes. You can slice it and serve it with vinegared rice wrapped in a sheet of nori for a super easy sushi hand roll or even barbecue with a mellow brown sugar rub. The options are endless for great salmon flavor as long as you've got the curiosity to try something new!

TROUT VS SALMON FINAL THOUGHTS.

Overall, trout and salmon have a lot in common. They are descended from the same family of fish and have a similar structure. One is a freshwater fish for the entirety of its life, while the other spends time in different habitats depending on the stage of life it's in. Salmon, is generally richer, larger, and more orange in color, while trout is smaller, lighter in flavor, and in color as well. Both are incredibly delicious sources of protein, and a great part of any balanced diet.

Thai People Love Deep Frying Whole Fish

Yes, we do. While people tend to cook fish delicately in the West, in Thailand we like to deep fry the heck out of them! The fish is "overcooked" by Western standards, but it's exactly what we're going for. By deep frying in high heat, with NO batter or coating, the fish develops a nice firm crust that turns the fish into something rather munchy and almost snackable. As Rod said in the video, "it's like chips!" Deep frying also works to reduce any fishiness found in some freshwater fish. Even Rod who thinks that trout's flavour is too fishy, didn't mind it at all when he tried my deep fried version.  For small fish, we often fry them whole. But we also sometimes cube the meat and fry them like nuggets, which is what we're doing here. If you start out with a whole fish, keep the head and bones and use them as part of a much more exciting presentation, which is the way I've done it here!

Ingredients

  • 1 head garlic
  • 600g wild rainbow trout fillet (or any other fish you prefer), cut into 1-inch chunks
  • A few sprigs cilantro or green onion, chopped, optional
  • Rice for serving
Sauce:
  • 3 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 3 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • ¼ - ½ tsp roasted chili flakes, to taste (see note)
  • 1 small shallot, finely sliced
Note: You can substitute red pepper flakes, but it's also easy to make! Start with small dried chilies, roast them in a 325°F oven for about 5 minutes or until the chilies start to smell smokey and are darkened slightly. Grind in a coffee grinder until fine. You can keep this at room temp but for long term storage, keep in the fridge or freezer to prevent mold.

Instructions

FOR THE SAUCE:

  1. Mix all sauce ingredients together, stir to dissolve the sugar, then set aside until ready to use.
For the Fried Garlic:
  1. Fill a wok or a large pot with frying oil at least 2 inches deep; you want to have PLENTY of oil for the fish to fry in. Too little oil will cause the temp to drop too much once you add the fish and you won't get a nice crust.
  2. Heat oil up to 250F to fry the garlic. While you wait, prepare a plate lined with a couple of layers of paper towels.
  3. Once oil reaches temp, turn heat down to low to maintain temperature. Add the garlic and fry, stirring frequently, until it’s golden (LIGHT golden, otherwise it will be bitter!) and there is very little bubbling left. Try to maintain heat under 275F, it should take about 5 minutes. Tip: If you don't have a thermometer, test the oil by adding a piece of garlic and it should bubble almost immediately but only gently.
  4. Once done, remove the garlic with a fine mesh skimmer and drain on the paper towel. Fish every last bit of garlic out of the oil otherwise they will burn when you fry the fish.

FOR THE FISH

  1. Turn the heat up to high and bring the oil temp to 400°F.  Meanwhile prep a mixing bowl lined with paper towels for the fish to go in after.
  2. Drop the fish in the oil, one piece at a time, and only about ⅓ of the fish per batch so you don’t crowd the pan. Try to add the pieces away from each other so they don't stick together. Fry for 2 minutes, or just until a golden and firm crust forms on the outside. Remove and place on the paper towels to absorb the oil.
  3. Repeat with remaining pieces (I myself fry 3 batches for 600g of fish) waiting for oil to come back up to temp before adding them in.
  4. Optional: You can fry the fish bones to use for presentation as I have shown here in the photo!
  5. Remove the paper towels from under the fish. Drizzle about 3 Tbsp of sauce over the fish as evenly as you can, and put the rest of the sauce in a small bowl for serving. Plate the fish pieces, drizzling more sauce on them if you see any dry pieces. Sprinkle crispy garlic and cilantro on top, and serve with the extra sauce on the side.
  6. Enjoy with rice and a preferably a cold fizzy beverage!