Last weekend while in Napa we had a wonderful meal at Bouchon, Thomas Keller's French bistro in Yountville. I had the excellent truite a la grenobloise: trout with butter, capers and haricots verts. So yesterday when I saw Max Creek Hatchery at the Greenmarket, I went right up and bought a whole rainbow trout for dinner. Only when I got home and began to prepare it did I realize that it wasn't boned. After a bit of back and forth in the kitchen, it was decided the trout needed to be boned before we could proceed with dinner. I pulled out my trusty boning knife, looked inside the fish, and froze: how the heck do you bone a trout?
I never boned any fish when I worked at the restaurant. Never even got close to cutting them in any fashion. Only our chef handled the fish because it was so expensive. An idiot like me could easily cut off a portion or two just trying to remove a small fin. So I looked at my trout and knew what to do in theory: remove the spine and rib cage and the pin bones, but in practice it wasn't so simple.
First I consulted some trusty cookbooks. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything would be more appropriately titled "How to Cook Everything, as long as Everything does not include unboned fish". Ah, this book is too contemporary, I thought, no home cook bones fish anymore. I need something from the time when home cooking was more complicated. So I turned to Madame Saint-Ange.
La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange was written for French housewives back when French housewives brought home fish still wriggling and knocked them senseless with a spare bottle of wine. Surely it would hold my hand through this first delicate boning procedure. Mais no! Madame tells you how to select a fish, how to dress it, how to gut it, how to scale it, but not how to bone it. I guess in those days women must have been so worn out by this point from all the labor they just cooked the damn things.
Finally the web came to our rescue with How to De-bone a Raw Trout (I chose method A) and I carefully and slowly removed the bones. I only made one small hole in the fish, towards the tail, and even managed to leave some of the meat on the fish. Though I cursed a lot, it turned out OK for my first attempt.
The bummer about this is that the next time I do it, it will be equally as difficult. I enjoy the repetitive nature of restaurant work, at least as a beginner. You do something so many times each day that after a week, you're boning trouts like a pro. But unless we start eating a whole lot more trout (which may happen) it will be a long time before I get proficient at boning trout. That Bouchon trout recipe is delicious–if I actually followed it more closely and used the proper amount of butter, it's really delicious–so we will be having it again soon. Then I will wield my trusty boning knife and try again.