Allyson Gofton in France: Trout
Truite (trout) is the favourite fish of the table here, and unlike New Zealand where you have to wade into chilly rivers to fish for it and you cannot sell it on, here locally farmed trout is available fresh daily at the supermarket or at my weekly market.
The enchanting alpine town of Argeles-Gazost in the Lavedan Valley — one of seven valleys that make up the larger Valley des Gaves just south of the religious town of Lourdes — is recognised as having France’s finest water for brown and rainbow trout farming. The melting snow from 2000m above crashes down into the gorge, crystal clear and highly oxygenated — perfect for trout.
Salmon is not farmed in France — there is no available coastal space to establish farms as it’s all given over to beaches and tourism — rather it is all imported from Scotland or Norway. Being a river fish, trout is farmed.
La Truite des Pyrenees is a family business, three generations old and grandson Franck Pomarez (pictured above), now in charge, spent 12 months on an OE playing rugby for Methven in New Zealand, while working on a sheep station with the Panett family in Ashburton. He quips that should life ever take a new road, it will be back in New Zealand, farming.
Three years ago, La Truite des Pyrenees was completely destroyed by an avalanche of water and snow that plummeted unexpectedly down the valley, destroying villages and taking livestock, and in this case all trout, in its wake. Starting over required huge investment for a rebuild, a complete re-stocking of fish and an opportunity to expand the product range from just trout, to pate, rillette, terrine, caviar, soups and smoked trout.
No antibiotics or hormones are used; everything is natural and organic. On average, the farm produces 600 tonnes of trout per year, and even with its success there are no plans to increase production. Franck explains, “We do this well with passion and pride, we have enough, we don’t need more.” It’s a philosophy Franck says he learned in New Zealand: “What’s good for the soul comes before the bank balance.”
The family farm brown and rainbow trout to meet the market demands. Brown trout, which is common in the rivers of Europe and has a much longer growing season, almost double that of rainbow trout, makes up only 20 per cent of the farm’s output. Its delicate-tasting, pale creamy flesh cooks beautifully in the pan or baked. Rainbow trout, with its blush pink-orange flesh and pearly sheen, is the market star. Everyone wants the salmon colour and large fillets for serving in steaks and thick slices and smoking.
If you come face to face with fresh New Zealand trout, keep it simple, ensuring you keep the flesh moist when cooking as it can dry out quickly. Whole trout needs only a generous slice of butter placed into the centre cavity with a good seasoning of salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice or a few thin slices of lemon. Slash 3-4 cuts in the flesh, season again, wrap in foil and bake in a moderate oven. Alternatively, I like to bake trout in milk, a rather old-fashioned method of cooking I know, but one that keeps the flesh very moist. Place the cleaned trout in a deep dish and cover with full-cream or light blue milk, add in a generous slurp of whisky — yes essential here — and a good slice of butter. Season with pepper and salt, cover with foil and bake in a moderate oven until the flesh is flaky. Truly magnificent!
Cold smoked and fresh salmon can be substituted for the trout in this wonderfully delicious and slightly calorific rillette. If you have horseradish sauce in your pantry, add about half a teaspoon to the finished rillette — it adds a delightful flavour.