May 22

Speckled Trout Day

Speckled Trout. Rattlesnake. Palm. Trout, NC. Salmon Trout. Soda Pop. The CIA. K-Doe. St. Rita.

The Saints

Today is the feast day of St. Rita of Cascia, for whom two New Orleans parishes are named--including the one in Harahan where I went to grammar school. Rita is a patroness of lost causes and hopeless cases. I will ask her intercession for the return of Christian's, Bruning's, La Riviera, and La Cuisine.

Today's Flavor

It is National Speckled Trout Day. Speckled trout--whose official name is the spotted sea trout--is not a trout at all, but a weakfish, a member of the same general family as redfish and drum. Of this there is no doubt: it's the standard fish of New Orleans white-tablecloth restaurants.Or used to be. That status is much diminished since the advent of laws that limit the commercial catch of trout to such a small number (less than one percent of the total catch by recreational fishermen) that the fish is now highly seasonal (October through spring), and it's hard to get even in season. There are good ways to prepare trout, and less good ways. The standard method, at trout specialists like Galatoire's and Arnaud's, is to deep-fry it. Or, if you're being elegant, to pan-saute it--a variation on frying, really. Trout also comes out nice when baked, particularly underneath a modest topping. These run the gamut from seafood and bread crumbs to shredded potatoes to toasted almonds or pecans. Although sometimes trout is grilled, I think it's not as good as other fish for that purpose. Its flaky structure seems to fall apart on the grill.Some of the best versions of trout meuniere and amandine are at Galatoire's, Arnaud's, Fury's, Mandina's, and the Bourbon House. It really is a great fish, with a nice texture with big flakes and a mellow nutty quality that lends itself to the buttery sauces we like to gild it with.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Trout, North Carolina is in the mother lode area for towns with food names: the northwest corner of North Carolina, near the borders with Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. It's a crossroads in some steep Appalachian mountains, in country where the roads run along creek valleys. A few houses are interspersed in the area. There probably are some trout and other fish in those creeks--although not speckled trout. It's an eleven-mile, twisting drive to the Beaver Creek Cafe, the nearest restaurant, in West Jefferson.

Deft Dining Rule #598

The most frequent misrepresentation in New Orleans restaurants is that the fish used to make the trout amandine is actually speckled trout.

Restaurant Anniversaries

Palm in New York City opened today in 1926. It set out as an Italian restaurant called Parma, owned by Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi. But the person taking the application for the license misheard the name, and Palm (without "the") it became. Palm quickly evolved into what it is now, a major player in the New York steakhouse community. It sprouted a second location across Second Avenue after a few years, and in recent decades has become a national chain. The original, which still has an extensive Italian menu, is one of the best steakhouses of our experience, although it seems to us that the chaining of the thing has lessened it somewhat. Sounds familiar.

Edible Dictionary

salmon trout, n.--Also known as the steelhead, this freshwater fish lives in rivers in the American Northwest. It is an excellent fish for eating, and has been farmed for that purpose, particularly by Native Americans. They can grow to be as much as three and a half feet long, but are typically much smaller. A two-footer would be a big one. The ones that wind up on the table are smaller still, running two or three pounds. It is well named, because it's both a true trout and a member of the salmon family. Its fresh is a medium tan color and very firm. Great for grilling or broiling.

Annals Of Culinary Education

Today in 1946, the Culinary Institute of America--this country's best-known training school for chefs--was founded as the New Haven Restaurant Institute. It moved to Hyde Park in 1970, where it still is. A second major campus is at Greystone in Napa Valley. Thousands of graduates of the CIA work in restaurants across America, and have given new cachet to the occupation of chef.

Music To Eat Red Beans By

Today in 1961, New Orleans R&B legend-to-be Ernie K-Doe saw his most famous song at the top of the pop charts. Mother In Law was his only really big record, but he played music around town for the rest of his life, always putting out a distinctly New Orleans sound.

Annals Of Cold Drinks

Today in 1807, in Philadelphia, one Townsend Speakman (what a great name! reversible, too!) mixed fruit juices with carbonated water in his drugstore and created what may have been the first soda pop.

Annals Of Unusual Ingredients

Rattlesnake meat in a canwent on the market for this first time today in 1931. Floridian George End was the entrepreneur. I don't have to tell you that it wasn't a runaway success. I've eaten rattlesnake meat a few times, and the only reason I remember it was because of it unusual identity. It didn't taste like much. Not as much like chicken as like some very heavy fish, but without the fish flavor. I keep thinking that rattlesnake cakes (like crab cakes) would be the way to go with the stuff.

Food Namesakes

Ed Fry, long-time soap opera actor, was born today in 1959. . . Former U.S. Congressman from Louisiana Richard Baker was born today in 1948. . . Classical pianist John Browning was born today in 1933. . . Harvey Milk, San Francisco politician and gay rights activist, was born today in 1930. . . And we have two Australian food names today: Actor Gary Sweet (1957) and football player Steven Baker (1980).

Words To Eat By

"My fare is really sumptuous this evening; buffalo's humps, tongues and marrowbones, fine trout, parched meal, pepper and salt, and a good appetite; the last is not considered the least of the luxuries."--From the journals of Meriwether Lewis, Thursday, June 13, 1805.

Words To Drink By

One sip of this
Will bathe the drooping spirits in delight,
Beyond the bliss of dreams.

--John Milton, Comus.