Men Who Cook: Kirk Spencer, California Stuffed Trout

I’m not sure, but I think Kirk is the person who pushed my guest recipe section into a Men Who Cook series.  He has sent me two recipes for this series and I’ll post one now and I’ll save the other for later when we need a lift.  Kirk’s recipes are as much fun to read as they are to eat.  Here is Kirk:

I learned to cook before I was 10. My parents believed all their kids should know how to do everything in the house, and that was one of the things done. Turns out I have a knack for it. I actually thought I was going to be a chef; till I worked in a restaurant and learned how much WORK doing that sort of thing really is. Still, I’ve been cooking for about 40 years.

Along the way, I found that far too often I didn’t have ‘that particular ingredient’ to hand. Shortly after that I realized that most dishes are variations on a theme; even before we get into the fact that one person’s “too hot” is another ‘s “where’s the spice?”

Oh, and I also got my grandmother’s cookbook. Well, actually it was the one she got from HER grandmother. You laughed at the way I wrote squab in a coffin, and yet that’s the way the whole book reads. Dibs and splashes, handfuls of this and pinches of the other, and “a bit of this or that” to taste, depending on what’s on hand. My first successful pie dough came from that book, and I’ll give you a close approximation of the instructions:

Take two double handfuls of flour and a pinch of salt and stir them together. Cut in a fist of lard (Grandmother drew through that and wrote “shortening”) till it is mealy. Sprinkle handfuls of water and stir till it comes together.

Oh, it’s a short crust – tough, not delicate and flaky. It’s a crust that would stand up to her husband taking a slice with him to the field. I’ve picked up a few tricks for when I want to make it delicate and flaky (half a fist of butter instead of shortening – and reduce the total size of the fist – just for an example). However, it works, works easily and well for people who are flummoxed or frightened by more “proper” instructions.

But that seriously influenced how I write instructions. Precision is for chefs – the professionals who have spent years testing the same recipe over and over and strive for repetitive perfection. Me, I’m a cook. I’m tossing together today’s ingredients and since I don’t live near a great market and have to pinch a penny or two when I DO go, I’m looking for what’s going to be happily devoured by my family and guests.

Fortunately, I seem to have figured it out.


Note from TaMara:  In my defense, when Kirk says I laughed at how he wrote Squab in a Coffin – it was because I enjoyed it!  Here’s his latest recipe, California Stuffed Trout in a pouch:

Recipes? I can go for hours on recipes.

California Stuffed Trout in a pouch

The basic recipe is simple. You need whole trout, as fresh as possible. (If you’re one of those who can’t handle the head looking back at you, you can cook this headless. Just get a friendly decapitator to assist.) You’re going to loosely pack a filling (which I’ll get to in a minute) in the belly, then seal the trout up and bake it.

Properly you’re going to seal the trout in a parchment pouch. Functionally, aluminum foil works though if your taste buds are sensitive you can taste the difference. You can also purchase brown paper (lunch) bags and oil them, put the fish in, close and staple the top, and bake. The process, however, is to trap all the steam inside so the cooking is as much about steaming as it about baking.

So what about that stuffing? You’ll want some chopped nuts, some fruit (small or rough chopped), a hot pepper that you’ve finely minced, and a pinch of salt. You’ll want roughly 2 parts nuts to one part fruit, and about a quarter cup of filling per fish. Now my preference is pecans, blueberries, and habanero that I’ve carefully seeded and cleaned of membrane, and I tend to make four of these (one habanero between the four, thank you). That’s a bit hot for some folk, and other folk look a bit askance at the blue stained interior of the fish when it’s done. However, I’ve used currants and cherries and apples and cranberries, each to good effect.  Loose stuff the fish, and put it in your pouch. Seal the pouch to trap the steam. Put in a hot oven (375-425 degrees F) for about 10-15 minutes for two to four fish, 15-20 for four to eight, and you’re on your own if you’re serving a feast. Serve in pouch, but warn your guests to be careful when opening as it will blast them with the steam.

Oh, formal?

Stuffed Trout en papillote

preheat oven to 400.

  • 1 cup chopped pecans.
  • 1/2 cup blueberries.
  • 1 habanero, seeded, membrane removed, minced.
  • 1/2 tsp salt.
  • 4 fresh trout, cleaned. (wear gloves for protection)

Mix pecans, berries, habanero and salt. Loosely stuff the trout, and place in parchment pouches. Seal pouches.

Bake 10-15 minutes at 400 (F).

Serve in pouches while hot.

Recommended sides: vinaigrette slaw OR other crisp salad; steamed vegetables.

That sounds so good.  Can’t wait to try it.  Thanks, Kirk.