Thursday, May 31, 2012

A beautiful catch from western NC stream

     The first Saturday in June is like Christmas Day for fly fishermen.  That's when our friends Sally and Joe are awakened in the middle of the night, not by someone coming down the chimney, but by the headlights of pickups and SUVs, angling for a parking space along the dirt road that follows Helton Creek in Ashe County.  They're all trying to lay claim to the beautiful, deep pool by the rock, or under the hemlock where so many snagged flies hang like Christmas ornaments.

 "Just one more cast. . . ."

     So what's the excitement?  Aren't the rainbows, brookies or specks, and brownies - NC's beautiful mountain trout - there swimming and eluding fishermen all the time?  Yep.  But beginning Saturday, until October, fishermen can KEEP their catch, rather than having to catch and release.
     Do you know how sobering, how tempting it is to reel in a big one, and then have to let it go?  Knowing that it would fill up your frying pan but good?  It's enough to make a grown man cry, just like the younger boy did when he didn't get a racing bike or car keys one holiday.   I know the hubby has a tender heart, and he always says that he let the fish go to get bigger.  But I also know he's just made a promise to catch it again, when the controlled harvest regulations are lifted.

     The little brookies and brown trout that Steve has caught are throw-backs.  They are tiny, but fun to catch since they are so very elusive and wary.
Let's see, can I focus?
     But those rainbows, they can have some size to them.  That's a fulfilling day, to spend wading in a stream, have the thrill of reeling one of those big boys all the way in, and then having it grace your dinner plate.
     Trout can be lightly floured, then fried in a little butter and oil.  Throw in some subtle chopped herbs, salt and pepper to taste, and that's just mighty fine.
     Or, try the recipe that follows, shared with me by John and Julie Stehling, the lovely owners of one of my favorites, Early Girl Eatery in Asheville, for THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK.   I love to do trout this way, because you simply bake the trout, then top the fillets with a fresh blackberry and green tomato sauce.
At the farmers markets, no chiggers, no thorns.
     Some folks call the native wild blackberries "dewberries" and they're worth the chiggers.  Just wear long sleeves and pants, secured to your wrists and ankles!  And choose thickets, esp. those on the roadside, that have not possibly been sprayed.
     You'll find baskets upon baskets of fresh blackberries at area farmers markets soon.Many of the new varieties are named for Native Americans, like Arapaho, Kiowa, Navaho, and in keeping suit,  NCSU, named one of their research varieties  "Nantahala", like the river and area in western North Carolina.
      And if you can't catch your own, try for some fresh trout fillets at area markets, esp. those from Sunburst Trout in Canton, NC.


(C) From THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK:  Authentic Recipes from VA's Highlands to NC's Mountains, by Elizabeth Wiegand, Globe Pequot Press, 2010.  

Trout with Green Tomatoes & Blackberry Sauce, from Early Girl Eatery
            Blackberry thickets grow along roads and mountainsides in the Blue Ridge, although you may avoid scratches and chiggers by purchasing gorgeous berries at local farmers markets.  Those cultured varieties are generally seedless and more plump without sacrificing flavor. 
            John and Julie Stehling have been leaders in the farm-to-table movement in the Asheville area.  “That relationship has to work both ways, with accountability and responsibility on both parts,” says John.  Many of the young farmers that supply Early Girl Eatery have become friends, sharing potlucks suppers with young kids racing around.   
            John features two favorite Blue Ridge foods – mountain trout and fresh blackberries – with this recipe.  The green tomato prevents the sauce from being overly sweet. 
1 green tomato
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced lemon zest
¾ cup sugar
pinch of ground cinnamon
pinch of ground nutmeg
¼ cup water
1 pint fresh blackberries
salt, to taste
4 trout filets, 5- ounces each
olive oil
1.     Core the green tomato and puree in blender or food processor.
2.     In non-stick saucepan, bring the puree to a low boil on medium heat.  Add lemon juice and zest, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and water.  Lower the heat and let simmer until the mixture is the thickness of a rich marinara.
3.     Remove from heat and gently stir in blackberries.  Add salt to taste.  Set aside while you prepare the trout.
4.     Preheat oven to 450°.  Lightly oil and salt both sides of the filets.
5.     Place trout on a rack over a baking pan and bake until fish is flaky, about 10 minutes per inch of thickness.
6.     Place baked trout filets on plate and top with sauce.
YIELD:  4 Servings

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