Fun with trout

Trout photo by Conor NolanLast 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.

14 thoughts on “Fun with trout

  1. I wonder if Saint-Ange didn’t list the boning technique because it’s more common to cook fish bone-in in France.
    I agree about repetitive tasks. Every time I debone a fish, I have to re-figure out what’s going on, because I only do it once in a while. I help in the kitchen for a big annual party, and we always say that we know we’re close to done when we’ve gotten the hang of whatever technique we need to master for a given dish.

  2. Clearly the best argument for only eating trout in restaurants. If you ever get to Evanston, Illinois… try the Davis Street Fish Market and if they have the Idaho Brook Trout on the menu… it rocks

  3. Why not leave the bones in. It’s not that difficult to eat a fish with bones in it. Though I have never actually tried to debone a raw fish, it sounds more difficult than eating the flesh off the bones of a fish that is cooked.

  4. And in unrelated news . . . or is it…. the $60 boning knife from shows up on the blog. . . so was it really the wretched time boning the trout . . . or the fact that with a $60 knife it ought to be easier?

  5. Sounds like you found what you needed, but just as an FYI, Bittman’s book FISH has very clear instructions on boning fish, accompanied by illustrations. And, of course, lots of other goodies.

  6. Trout bones are so thin and hard to see that even when I’ve eaten deboned trout in restaurants I’ve nearly choked every time. It’s a fish I now, sadly, generally avoid (unless it’s smoked, on a salad. man, that’s good stuff).
    But kudos Meg! Might be a nice replacement for bluefish? (btw, I saw an article in the Boston Globe that says that bluefish is okay, as long as you don’t eat the skin or dark meat, and broil it as opposed to frying).

  7. Why not leave the bones in.
    Well I might have considered that but my husband isn’t the biggest fan of fish and bones cause problems for him, so I removed them for him. Also the presentation: it was beautiful opened up with the beans and bread on top. Wouldn’t have opened up on its back with the bones in.
    And in unrelated news . . . or is it…. the $60 boning knife from shows up on the blog
    Ah ha, yes, I put it there. I have that knife and it’s beautiful for boning. I’ve cut silverskin off lamb ribs with it and done all sorts of things. The problem was not the knife, it was me. No knife is going to resolve the problem of inexperience, no matter how lovely it handles and how sharp it is.

  8. Trout is perhaps the most delectable of all fish and this comes from one not too fond of that which swims…. we used to catch a bunch of New England brookies before breakfast and take them home for Mom to fix….. the secret to trout is no matter how well it has been deboned… inspect every last morsel.. while the bones are small and very close in color to the flesh… usually any bone that would be big enough to choke you will be visible. One must not just carelessly eat trout… but then again why would one?

  9. Rick Stein’s Seafood is one of my favourite cookbooks. The first half of the book covers fifty beautiful photographed techniques, each in the context of a typical recipe. Well worth having on the shelf for those “ooh – cheap whole skate” moments!

  10. In regards to boning trout, I’d recommend getting a flexible fillet knife, rather than a rigid boning knife: it will make this task infinitely easier.
    My culinary instructors have shown me a few ways to bone a trout. If it’s already gutted, just cut from the inside, along one side of the spine to detach all the ribs. Sever the spine from both the head and tail, then lay it open and carefully cut behind the rib bones to remove them and the belly fat. (Be sure to cut off any lower fins.) This is a neat method that leaves the fish whole, but you can easily remove the head/tail and separate the two fillets.
    It’s worth pointing out that trout does have pin bones, like salmon, but these don’t necessarily have to be removed since they are so small and will dissolve some. If you choose to, just slice them all out in one piece…when the fish cooks, it’ll swell to hide the cut.

  11. Brad, thanks! I tried to remove the ribs and spine all intact, and found it difficult to get my knife under the ribs to begin. Once I did I was OK. But removing the spine first, then the ribs might make it easier. Re: fillet knife, that makes culinary sense but since I don’t fillet that often, might not make financial sense. My boning knife isn’t too rigid, it handled well once I got into the right place. My problem is more cutting close enough to the ribs to leave some flesh on the fillet and not cutting it all away!

  12. The best trout recipe I know starts like this too …
    1. Drive car to good seafood restaurant…

  13. I, too, can recommend Rick Stein’s Seafood – great for everything fish and beyond.
    While I’ve been avoiding to prepare a whole fish in the past, I just overcame my silly aversion and started with small fresh anchovies… The Boquerones turned out great, but I’m not sure, if I’d be as successful with a whole trout (my favorite fish btw).

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