Salt-Baked Trout: International Incident Party

For November’s International Incident Party, our fabulous host Jeroxie: Addictive and Consuming has challenged up yet again, but this time with Salt.  For those of you who are familiar with her site, salt makes a regular appearance on her blog.  She even held a giveaway for a fantastic book all about salt aptly named The Salt Book.I was a little stumped about what do do for this event.  My mind veered toward salt preserving and curing, but I am still in my infancy with those procedures.  I had already tackled preserved lemons in a previous post and my charcuterie skills leave much to be desired. Then suddenly the idea of fish baked in salt popped into my head.  I found a recipe in Martha Stewart’s Cooking School, but it called for more kosher salt than I had on hand and used fish that are unavailable in Bulgaria or atleast not available in the quality and the freshness required. I decided on trout baked in a mixture of sea salt and kosher salt… but here is the thing…  I am extremely fish-squimish!

It started back when I was a little girl.  We used to spend our summers on a lake in Pennsylvania, about an hour and a half from our house in Brooklyn.  Being city kids, my brother and I liked to fish for “sunnies” or bluegills because they were ridiculously easy to catch.  Our method was this, toss some bits of white bread in the water and then they just jump onto your hook.  Literally that easy.  Sometimes we could catch over 50 a day, but then toss them back when we were done.  Growing up, my family didn’t eat fish, unless it was frozen and in stick form and even still it was rare.  I was once told that part of being a fisher person is taking your own fish off the hook, which I have never done… to this day.  My only attempt was wearing a baseball glove, which probably killed the fish in the long run.  As a budding chef, I know the time will come, when I have to touch and gut a fish.  Yes, I have touched fish, but it was a salmon filet, which didn’t require me to touch the whole fish.  I don’t know why I am so excited to carve up a cattle carcass, but horrified at the thought of touching a dead fish.

Back to the party, I purchased 3 whole trouts, which had been gutted already (phew!) that I need to clean a bit then bury in salt.  I was literally talking to myself and giving myself a pep talk… “you can do this!” I  finally bit the bullet and took the fish into my hand.

I don’t know if it was the fact that the fishes were intact including head that freaks me, but I felt like it would start wriggling at any moment or its scales would poke into my hand…  One of the fishes jaw started flapping as I ran it under the water and I felt a little shiver down my spine.
Salt-Baked Trout adapted from Martha Stewart Cooking School
3 whole trout – 800 – 900g (1.5 – 2lbs), gutted and cleaned
5 cups (1.5kg/lb) Sea Salt
5 egg whites
3/4 cup water
1 lemon
a bunch of fresh thyme sprigs
a bunch of fresh parsley sprigs

Pre-heat the oven to 450F (235C)
Rinse the fish under running water till clean and no blood remains.
Whisk together the egg whites and water till frothy.  Add the salt and combine, it should feel like coarse wet sand.
Pour 1/3rd of of the salt mixture on the bottom of a 9 x 13″ baking dish. Layer the 1/4 the lemons and herbs on top of the salt mixture. Stuff the remaining lemons and herbs equally inside the trout.
Cover the fishes in the remaining salt mixture, then bake for 30 – 35 minutes.  When finished, let rest for 5 minutes, then carefully remove the salt crust.
The finished fish was moist and had a delicate lemony herb flavor.  I would probably make this dish again, but use kosher salt, which the recipe originally called for.  My only hesitation is the fact that there is a lot of wasted salt.  I felt a tad guilty about throwing it all away. 
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Alex – Asian/Japanese Grocery Store

Like most of my culinary adventures in Sofia, they come about randomly.  I was at Cru last week and noticed that one of the items on the menu contained dashi, which is an ingredient that I have been searching for for quite some time.  The people at Cru were kind enough to tell me that dashi is available in Bulgaria, but they didn’t know the name of the shop or the exact location, so they told me it was on Iskar St. near Halite, which was vague, but I tucked it into my mental to find list.

Then at the French Cooking Demo, I met Yuko one of the Japanese ladies in Sofia.  I figured she would have heard of this place for sure, I was right.  She drew me a map indicating that the street was Ekzarh Youseff, near the place where people fill up bottles with mineral water and Costa Coffee, but she didn’t know the exact address or the name of the place, but a map is better than a general vicinity, so I was off.

It was tricky to find parking because of Halite and the fact that I was foggy on the cross street.  I began walking down Ekzarh Youseff, I managed to find both of my markers: the place where Sofians fill up bottles with mineral water and the Costa Coffee across the street, but I didn’t find anything on Ekzarh Youseff.  I decided to back track and ask people if they had heard of such a shop, but I got no information.  Dedicated as I was, I walked around the surrounding streets thinking I was reading the map wrong, when I came to the restaurant L’Etranger. I went in. My rational was this, maybe someone inside would have heard of this shop. Inside I found the IWC President Stephanie having lunch with a friends.  Her friend had heard of the place and told me to go back onto Ekzarh Youseff.  It was a very small shop that sold fish.

In the end, I managed to find this place.  I walked passed it at least 5 times. It took about an hour of pounding the pavement, but I succeeded.  The shop is really small, but I found some things on their shelves that I hadn’t been able to find before, palm sugar (for pad Thai), bonito flakes (for dashi) and tons of frozen fish.  The walls are adorned with diagrams about various fish species.  I will be returning to this shop soon as I now have new items I am searching for.

The shop doesn’t have a name, but there is an exterior sign that says “fish” in Bulgarian (Риба).  You can find the shop at 26 Ekzarh Youseff St. (Ул. “Екзарх Йосеф” № 26) Tel: (+359) 02 983 24 83. Good luck!
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2009: Eggs & Yogurt

For those of you who are not familiar with my past, I would like to share a few tidbits.  1.) I had my first salad when I was 19 and it was only because I was working at Tossed. They gave you a free salad after your shift. As a poor college student, a free meal is a free meal. 2.) When I eat scrambled eggs (rarely), the ketchup to egg ratio is greatly out of balance.  It basically looks like a bloody massacre on a plate, with a sprinkle of very well done eggs. 3.) I don’t do fish or any sort of sea creatures.

Since meeting my husband in 1999, I have branched out culinary.  He literally taunted me till I tried something new.  The first month that we were together, I was at his apartment and he offered me some Bulgarian feta cheese (сирене).  At that time, my cheese consisted of 2 sorts, “white american” and “yellow american”.  Reluctantly, I tried it and immediately thought it was gross.  The texture was crumbly and the taste was salty.

In August 2001, Angel and I spent a month in Bulgaria.  This was my first trip to his homeland and every meal included feta, it was an ingredient in almost half of the dishes prepared or just placed on the table cut into cubes and sprinkled with a little bit of red pepper.

Having no choice but to eat what was prepared, I learned to love feta… especially on a Shopska (шопска салата).  The love was so strong, that we named our Jack Russell “Feta”.

Feta taking a shower!

Over the last 10 year, I have slowly begun to conquer my own culinary frontiers, which brings me to reflect on 2009. Here are some of the barriers that have been broken:

I ate plain yogurt for the first time.  Sally and I were in Greece and she was looking for some Total Yogurt and Honey pots, which are known as Fage in the US.  I bought some to try and thought they were ridiculously delicious.  After they ran out, I tried to recreate the experience with plain yogurt and jam, which then lead me to adding muesli/ granola and now, my favorite breakfast food.

Eggs are a huge taboo in my family.  My father detests eggs and anything that he consciously knows to contain eggs. This stems from his father, but the egg-phobia is pretty well ingrained into my father and my uncle.  As I mentioned earlier, I have eaten ketchup and eggs, but that was the extent of my egg experience.  This year at the Slow Food dinner, they served a salad with quail eggs.  I didn’t want to seem different because I wasn’t eating my eggs or give the impression that I didn’t like my salad, so I tried them.  The result: Eeh!  They didn’t taste egg-y, but they didn’t really taste like anything either.

Working at the Hilton, has also forced me to try new things, not because they hold a gun to my head, but if you want to be a good cook, you need to know how the food you’re preparing tastes.  Common sense really. Last week, I had to prepare deviled eggs with tuna as a hors d’oeuvre. I made the mixture as instructed, but when it came time to season it, I struggled with myself internally and then decided to not be a “wussy” and taste the yolk-tuna mixture.  Again: Eeh!  The taste was really nothing special, but it wasn’t gross.  I continued to taste till I felt satisfied with my creation.  I then offered some to one of the other chef’s in the kitchen, just to make sure I was on the right track.  She replied that she doesn’t eat fish.  I just chuckled to myself for a moment.

Next year, my husband wants me to try his favorite soup… tripe.  Here is an excerpt of our last conversation about the subject.

Angel: Have you ever been in a barn, where they keep animals.
Casey: Yeah?
Angel:  Well, tripe soup taste likes that smells!

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