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Cooks make no bones about it, they're hooked on trout

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A glint of silver and a flash of fractured light -- blue, green and red -- mark the spot where a moment before a fish had been. In the dappled fast-water world of mountain streams, the rainbow trout reigns supreme. It is a fish that stirs the imaginations of fishermen and cooks alike.

Named for the "rainbow" band that runs the length of its olive-green skin, the rainbow trout is America's most popular sport fish. Wild trout are prized by fly fishermen for their fierce spirit and wily nature (and "catch and release" is the honored rule.) Plentiful fish from hatchery-stocked lakes and streams are the mainstay of many a family fishing trip -- and fish fry. Those with a taste for catching trout without a hook can find farmed fish at almost any seafood counter.

The culinary appeal of rainbow trout is simple: The flesh is mild and tender, and the bones are few and easy to remove. The small, consistent size of farmed rainbows makes offering uniform portions a breeze. Whole or in fillets, this fish holds up well to a wide variety of recipes and techniques. It can be baked, boiled, poached, grilled, steamed, pan-fried -- about the only preparation not well suited to the trout is stir-frying, because quick stirring over high heat breaks up the flesh.

Farm-raising trout allows producers to easily control their growth and provide fish that are consistently sized. Generally weighing 3/4 to 1 pound each, these trout offer a perfect single-serving size.

Farmed fish have a somewhat milder flavor than wild trout. They also have a consistent flavor from fish to fish and season to season, whereas wild trout, depending on where they are from and what they've been eating, can have varying degrees of flavor intensity. Flesh color varies as well, from creamy white in farmed rainbows to a deep salmon-pink in some wild fish.

Cooked whole, possibly with a stuffing, the fish makes a generous serving. Some find eating a whole fish needlessly intimidating. It's easy. Simply eat the top fillet of the fish down to the backbone, then lift off and discard the whole backbone with ribs, tail and head (if still attached). The remaining fillet sits whole on your plate, ready for carefree eating.

Trout fillets will weight 4 to 6 ounces each, a perfect size for pan-frying or broiling. (If your seafood market has only whole trout, ask them to fillet it for you.) The easiest way to cook fillets is also one of the best. Simply coat the fillets in flour seasoned with salt and pepper, then pan-fry to a golden brown.

To make a quick sauce, transfer the cooked trout fillets to a plate and cover to keep warm. Then add a little white wine or lemon juice to the pan, with a nut of butter if you like, along with chopped fresh herbs, capers, thinly sliced mushrooms -- whatever you like -- and cook just to heat, then spoon over the trout. For hearty appetites, you might serve two fillet portions, or accompany one fillet with plenty of sauteed or steamed vegetables alongside.

Because of its mild flavor, trout benefits from assertive companion ingredients, such as capers, dill, green or red peppers, ginger, lemon and so on. Coating the fish in corn meal instead of flour before pan-frying creates an incomparable nutty, crunchy coating for this delicate fish. Use your imagination. Add some of your favorite ingredients and you can make your own culinary creations with trout.

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Flavors from the Mediterranean coast -- olive oil, peppers, cumin and garlic -- are a delightful foil for the delicate flesh of trout. If you like, you can replace the trio of peppers with a single large sweet red, green or yellow pepper.

Three-Pepper Trout

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 medium sweet yellow pepper, cored and sliced

1/2 medium sweet red pepper, cored and sliced

1/2 medium green pepper, cored and sliced

1 teaspoon cumin seeds or 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

-- ground cloves

salt, pepper

4 large trout fillets (about 1 1/2 pounds total)

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large skillet. Add garlic and saute until soft and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add peppers and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in cumin, coriander, cloves and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to bowl and set aside.

Add remaining tablespoon olive oil to pan and fry fillets, skin-side down, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and spoon pepper mixture over them. Cover pan and cook over medium-low heat until trout are opaque through thickest part, 6 to 8 minutes more. Transfer trout and pepper garnish to warmed dinner plates and serve.

Calories per serving 274. Total fat 13 g. Saturated fat 2 g. %J Cholesterol 96 mg. Sodium 48 mg. Carbohydrates 3 g. Protein 36 g. Omega-3 .9 g.

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The thin skin of trout is not only edible, but also a tasty contrast the tender flesh. Here the skin cooks to delicate crispiness in a one-sided cooking method. A nonstick pan makes frying tidy, but a standard skillet can also be used.

Crisp-Sided Trout with Ginger Sauce

Makes 4 servings

4 large skin-on trout fillets (about 1 1/2 pounds total)

2 teaspoons oil

1 bunch green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons sake or white wine

-- red pepper flakes

Cut 3 shallow diagonal slashes in skin side of each trout fillet. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet and add fillets, skin-side down (2 at a time if your pan is not large enough). Cover and cook over medium-high heat until tops of fillets are opaque, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove cover and continue cooking until skin is crisp and brown and flesh is opaque through thickest part, 2 to 3 minutes longer.

Flip fillets, skin-side up, onto 4 warmed dinner plates. Add green onions and ginger root to skillet and cook, stirring, over medium heat until soft, about 1 minute. Add soy sauce, sake and red pepper flakes. Cook and stir until hot, about 30 seconds longer. Pour sauce over trout fillets and serve immediately.

Calories per serving 258. Total fat 8 g. Saturated fat 1 g. Cholesterol 96 mg. Sodium 358 mg. Carbohydrates 1 g. Protein 36 g. Omega-3 .9 g.

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Stuffed trout recipes may be a dime a dozen, but this one stands out from the crowd with nutty wild rice and zesty orange. If you like, you can remove the trout heads and tails before stuffing.

Trout Stuffed with Wild Rice

Makes 4 servings

1 large orange

1/2 cup wild rice

salt, pepper

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 cup finely diced day-old bread, crusts discarded (about 2 slices)

1/4 cup chopped parsley

2 to 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium chicken broth or water

4 whole cleaned trout (about 3/4 pound each)

Finely grate 2 teaspoons zest from orange and reserve. Cut orange in half and squeeze juice. Add enough water to orange juice to make 1 1/2 cups liquid. Bring liquid to boil with -- of salt. Stir in wild rice. Return to boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until tender to the bite, about 40 minutes. Carefully drain off any remaining liquid. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter in medium skillet. Add onion and cook, stirring, until soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in bread and parsley. Saute another 3 minutes, then remove skillet from heat. Add wild rice, reserved orange zest, salt and pepper to taste and enough chicken broth to moisten.

Rinse trout and wipe dry with paper towels. Sprinkle inside and out with salt and pepper. Spoon one-quarter of stuffing into each trout. Place trout in lightly buttered baking dish and brush fish with remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Bake at 350 degrees until fish are opaque through thickest part (just behind head), 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer to warmed dinner plates and serve

immediately.

Calories 442. Total fat 14 g. Saturated fat 5 g. Cholesterol 144 mg. Sodium 172 mg. Carbohydrates 26 g. Protein 51 g. Omega-3 g.

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In this recipe, poached fillets are paired with crisp greens, toasted pine nuts and Sun-Dried Tomato Dressing. Any of your )) favorite seasonal vegetables can be added. Slivered almonds can take the place of pine nuts.

Trout Salad Italienne Makes 4 servings

SALAD:

1/2 cup white wine

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 bay leaf, crushed

salt

4 trout fillets (1 to 1 1/2 pounds total)

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 head romaine or red leaf lettuce, washed and torn into bite-size pieces

1 small red onion, sliced into thin rings

2 tablespoons capers, drained

SUN-DRIED TOMATO DRESSING:

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons minced sun-dried tomato

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

salt, pepper

1/3 cup olive oil

To prepare salad, pour about 1 1/2 inches water in large skillet and add wine, peppercorns, bay leaf and -- of salt. Bring to boil and simmer 2 minutes. Add trout and poach over medium heat until trout are opaque through thickest part, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain and place fillets on paper towels to cool.

Scatter pine nuts in cake pan. Toast in oven at 350 degrees until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes, shaking pan occasionally so nuts brown evenly. Set aside.

To make sun-dried tomato dressing, combine lemon juice, sun-dried tomato, mustard and salt and pepper to taste in small bowl. Whisk until salt has dissolved. Slowly add olive oil, whisking constantly so that dressing thickens slightly. Taste for seasoning and set aside.

Whisk salad dressing and toss with lettuce in bowl. Adjust seasonings. Arrange greens on 4 chilled plates. Discard skin from trout fillets. Divide trout into large pieces and arrange over greens. Scatter onion rings, pine nuts and capers over salad. Serve immediately.

Calories per serving 390. Total fat 26 g. Saturated fat 4 g. %J Cholesterol 80 mg. Sodium 118 mg. Carbohydrates 7 g. Protein 33 g. Omega-3 .8 g.

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