Give Dane Tullock a kayak, a fishing rod, a cast iron skillet, and a stout, and he promises you a soulful, powerfully spiced dish seasoned with the salt spray, the icy wind, the balmy breeze — the terroir — of the beach or river stream from whence Dane launched.
Tullock is the president and founder of Cooking in the Great Outdoors, a website that includes his wild recipes, but also videos of Tullock literally cooking in the great outdoors.
Watch him grill avocado halves on his Coleman stove, a spring salt marsh behind him just beginning to green, dunes of gray bare trees beyond that, and the sound of waves breaking over his voice as he teaches us how to make Green Eyed Susans, an egg yolk poached in the center of the avocado half, leeks sprinkled over all.
Tullock tells us a sprinkle of pecorino cheese is great on it, too. There's a rise and fall of music in his voice, a shadow of the Florida drawl he left behind when he came to New England.
On that Little Compton, R.I., beach, Tullock prepares Tautog, cucumber and kiwi ceviche with the fish he had loaded earlier into his kayak. Black and Tan Pork Short Ribs, marinated two days before in Guinness, ale, a little soy, garlic and fresh herbs, are cooking slowly on the Weber planted in the sand; ribs are Tullock's favorite thing to make.
This is manly food made with love. I call Tullock the Hemingway of cooks.
His southern drawl strengthening, Tullocks says his creative forces are outdoor recreation, great friends, and local foods, but it's all a way to bring people together.
"We met in the kitchen, my family," Tullock says. "With my grandfather, we caught the fish, cleaned it and cooked it." That's basically what Tullock's videos are about, an ultra-culinary version of cooking with his grandfather. Tullock's grandmother's cast iron skillet, seasoned with years of her biscuits and fried green tomatoes, is his favorite cooking tool.
A marine biologist, Tullock worked as a consultant to the aquarium industry for years. Now, fittingly, he works for REI, but his food is winning hearts nationally; he auditioned for the Fox MasterChef television show, and was noticed. More recently he auditioned for "Chopped."
Tullock also partners with local brewing companies to create recipes using their beers. In a contest recently to create a dessert risotto, Tullock stirred into the rice into Southern Tier Double Milk Stout Beer and coconut milk. (He then filled arancini with cheddar and goat cheeses and served the deep fried rounds with a cherry and Jack Daniels Honey Whiskey sauce.)
Blue Hills Brewery has declared his Beer Bread Chicken its own: Antimatter Single Malt Ale helps leaven the bread dough, and Blue Hills India Pale Ale marinates the chicken (along with lime, soy, and Worcestershire sauce.) Follow this recipe through — roasted poblano peppers, fried prosciutto, dill, cilantro, and Swiss cheese are mixed with that marinated chicken to fill individual packages made from the malt-inspired bread crust. Tullock is intuitive and fearless with flavor.
Here is his pan-seared trout recipe, the most important ingredient being that cast iron skillet.
This dish combines fresh herbs, simple ingredients such as olive oil and garlic, and one of my favorite protein sources, trout, to create a hearty main dish that goes well with wild rice, grilled vegetables or even a simple salad.
To truly make this dish shine, you will need a well-seasoned cast iron skillet to cook your fish. The key is to produce medium to high heat and cook the fish quickly. If cooked properly, the result will be a layer of crispy, spice-coated skin covering soft, flaky flesh and a aroma of garlic and fresh herbs that will have your friends and family racing to the dinner table.
Pan-seared Trout by Dane Tullock
4 heads freshly chopped garlic
3 to 4 dozen whole fresh sage leaves
6 to 12 sprigs fresh spicy oregano
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cleaned and butterflied trout (any species)
1/4 cup spice mix (Old Bay seasoning, lemon pepper, coarsely ground black pepper, garlic salt, ground cumin and Tony Chachere's creole seasoning)
Your fish should be scaled, cleaned and butterflied. I prefer to keep the heads on for presentation. However, if this is a bit rustic for you or your family, you can use just the lower portions.
Place each trout skin side down and brush the flesh side liberally with olive oil, being sure to coat all the meat. Next, rub the spice mixture into the meat, ensuring that the spices are evenly spread over the entire inside of the fish. Sprinkle chopped garlic over the spices so that it is evenly distributed on both sections of the inside of the fish. Finally, lay 8 to 10 fresh sage leaves inside each fish.
Fold the halves of the fish together and thread a wooden skewer through both sides to close up and hold the fish in place. Brush both sides of each fish with ample amounts of olive oil (this will keep the skin from sticking to the hot skillet) and coat one side liberally with the spice rub. Feel free to literally rub the spices into the skin as you will loose much of the coating as the fish cooks and when you turn it over to cook the second side.
Preheat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat, ensuring that the cooking surface is nice and hot before adding your fish. A good way to test this is to drip a small amount of olive oil into the pan. It should sizzle loudly but not immediately burn off.
Once the skillet has warmed up sufficiently, place the fish spice-side down into the pan. Depending on the size of your skillet, you should be able to cook two fish simultaneously. Brush the upper side of the fish with a fresh coat of olive oil and liberally sprinkle the exposed skin with more of the spice rub.
Cook one side of the fish for 2 to 3 minutes until the skin is nice and crispy, but not burned, on the bottom side. Since your cast iron skillet is nice and hot, it will not take long to cook the trout, so it is important to keep an eye on the skin touching the hot surface. This is where a nice fish spatula comes in handy. Fish spatulas are designed to be very thin with less surface area that a traditional spatula. This will allow you to maneuver the spatula between the fish and the pan while keeping the skin intact and free of the hot skillet surface.
Once the bottom skin is crispy and brown, turn the fish over to cook second side by holding onto the wooden skewer and gingerly lifting using the spatula to lift it out of the pan. Cook the second side for another 2 to 3 minutes until the skin is golden brown and crispy to match the previously cooked portions.
Remove the trout from the skillet and place on a metal baking dish. Cover the cooked fish with aluminum foil to keep it warm while you cook the rest of your fish. Repeat the searing process with your remaining fish and serve warm over a bed of wild rice or beside a nice chilled garden salad of fresh greens.
If prepared correctly, your dinner guests should be able to remove the light, tasty flesh of the trout with a fork, releasing steam and the smell of fresh sage and garlic from the inside of the fish. The olive oil on the interior of the fish will have literally steamed the meat from the inside, infusing it with the taste of your spices, herbs and garlic.
Now you can sit back with a cold craft beer and listen to the delighted sounds of your guests enjoying the fruits of your culinary labor.
I suggest pairing this dish with a nice IPA or brown ale to compliment light, herby flavor of the trout.
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Food for Thought runs weekly in the Times' Taste of the Times section and is written by Heather Atwood, an author and mother from Rockport. Questions and comments can be sent to Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her blog at www.heatheratwood.com.