A whole butterflied trout which cooks faster, and has better flavour

Top the grilled trout with salmon roe and the dish is elegant enough for a dinner party. PHOTO: NYTIMES
Top the grilled trout with salmon roe and the dish is elegant enough for a dinner party. PHOTO: NYTIMES

(NYTIMES) - There are excellent reasons to cook a whole fish, rather than fillets. The skin and bones add enormous amounts of flavour to the flesh, and they also keep it from drying out, which gives you a wider margin of error.

There are many times, though, when whole fish just can't be on my menu. Like when I am in the mood for salmon, and the entire animal would be too much for my small family, or when I'm serving people who don't like to stare down their dinner.

Most often, though, I choose fillets over whole fish for their cooking speed. There are few things faster and easier than broiling a couple of fillets rubbed with an herb-flecked compound butter.

But there is a solution that marries the convenience of a fillet with the succulence of a whole fish: butterflied trout.

  • TROUT WITH CHIVE BUTTER

  • INGREDIENTS

    4 whole trout, butterflied

    Fine sea salt, to taste

    1 garlic clove, finely grated or minced

    ½ tsp fresh lemon or lime juice, more to taste

    ⅛ tsp ground black pepper

    4 Tbsps unsalted butter, cubed and softened

    1 Tbsp minced chives, more for serving

    Trout roe, salmon roe or capers, for serving, optional

  • METHOD

    1. Heat the broiler. Place trout, skin side down, on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt.

    2. In a mini food processor, or using a mortar and pestle or a bowl and a fork, stir together garlic, lemon juice, pepper and a pinch of salt. Add softened butter and chives and mash or process until well mixed.

    3. Broil trout until just opaque, two to five minutes depending upon your broiler.

    4. Drop spoonfuls of butter on top of the fish; it will melt immediately. Top with more chives and with roe or capers, and a little more lemon juice if you like.

    Yield: 4 servings

    Total time: 10 minutes

  • AND TO DRINK

    White wine with fish? In this case, yes.

    Trout, especially wild trout, can be good with light red wines, like an easygoing Burgundy or pinot noir.

    But this recipe, with herbs, lemon and capers (and possibly even roe), calls out for a gentle white. A delicate kabinett riesling from the Mosel, with a hint of sweetness, would be a delightful spring treat with this dish.

    For something a bit sturdier, you could try a white Bordeaux; a good one from Pessac-Léognan would be a delicious splurge. An Etna Bianco from Sicily, made with the saline carricante grape, would be terrific. You could also try a good albarino from the Galicia region of Spain, or, if you insist on a bit of color in your wine, a bone-dry rosé. - ERIC ASIMOV

The prep work is simple. Butterflied trout doesn't have bones to maneuver around, and it needn't have the head either. (If yours comes with the head still attached, lop it off with a sharp knife.) It does still come wrapped in its skin, though, and because the fillets are thin, there is a high skin-to-flesh ratio. Even if you're not fond of eating the skin, its presence intensifies the flavor of the fillets and keeps them nice and juicy. And if you are a fish skin fan, there is more of it to savor, preferably when it's crisp and salty.

The technique for broiled butterflied trout is as simple as it gets. Spread the fish open on a baking pan, season with a little salt and pepper and broil as close to your heat source as possible, until the center of the flesh turns opaque and the edges curl and brown.

You can mix the herb butter together while the fish is in the oven - that is, as long as you've taken the butter out of the refrigerator in advance so it's soft and supple. Better yet, keep some butter on the counter so you will always have spreadable butter on hand. It can last for a week or so without refrigeration.

At this point, all that's left to do is add a final garnish. For a weeknight meal, capers add a nice, inexpensive pop of salinity and crunch.

Or if you want to turn this into something more deluxe for company, sprinkle the fish with trout or salmon roe. The shimmering orange pearls add a similar salty burst but are a lot more elegant - and it's just as quick for the cook.