Want to show off for your dinner-party guests? Ask them, “For what farm product is Western North Carolina one of the top six producers in the United States?” It’s likely they’ll respond “apples.” Let out an exasperated sigh when you shake your head no. “It’s trout,” you’ll say, adding that North Carolina is the second largest producer of the freshwater fish in the country— with almost all activity happening right here in our backyard.
Many of the area’s farmers raise the trout that you end up reeling in from mountain streams, while the others raise the trout that make it to the shelves of area groceries and onto the menus of local-sourcing restaurants like The Market Place in downtown Asheville.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the streams of WNC produce the best trout in the country, if not the world,” says Market Place owner and executive chef William Dissen.
Chef Dissen serves up all types of trout in all manner of preparations. Of note, he features trout on the restaurant’s charcuterie plate. “Charcuterie started out as a way to preserve meats before the invention of refrigeration,” he says. “But, today, it’s used because of the great flavors derived from the preservation process.”
Dissen’s favorite cured preparations on The Market Place’s menu include beet-cured trout gravlax and smoked trout rillettes, a preparation similar to patê. But, his most unique creation just might be his trout “chips.”
“We like to cure and dehydrate the trout skin in our food dehydrator and use it as a crispy chip with smoked trout dip,” he says. “It takes ‘chips and dip’ to a whole different level.”
The Market Place started looking to trout for their charcuterie plate to fit in with their mantra of sourcing local ingredients. The restaurant procures its trout from Sunburst Trout Farms, a Canton family farm that’s been in operation for more than 60 years.
While Sunburst offers up fresh trout fillets, which you’ll find at specialty stores and groceries like Earth Fare and the Fresh Market, their product line extends further. Sunburst also offers an award-winning caviar, smoked-trout dip and their rather unique trout jerky.
“The question was, what could we do with high-quality trout protein that was generated as a result of the boning process,” says Sunburst’s research and development chef, Charles Hudson. “I proposed a jerky product and, through much trial and error, arrived at the trout jerky we sell today.” It’s Sunburst’s first shelf-stable product, and it’s been a big hit. Hudson admits many customers are reluctantly curious about the jerky, at least at first. “But once someone has a chance to taste it, that initial skepticism is quickly changed,” he says.
The trout farm is fertile creative ground for Hudson as well as other area chefs. “I get excited when I hear that a chef will be touring the farm, because it gives them a chance to experience the possibilities that exist with our product,” Hudson says. “For instance, the Lobster Trap’s trout ribs came out of a visit from their chef at the time.” Those trout ribs were featured on an episode of The Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, by the way.
Sunburst’s newest creative endeavor is an encrusted fillet, which you can find in three varieties: au poivre, hemp and grits and hemp-sesame. “We wanted to create something that would be unique, involve minimal prep time and keep possible food allergens out of the equation. So, instead of a nut-crust, I explored the use of hemp-seeds,” he says.
And when it comes to trout, Hudson loves simple preparations. “Grilling is probably my favorite cooking method,” he notes. Chef Dissen favors simple methods as well, especially a trout fillet pan-roasted to perfection. Just how do you achieve that perfection at home? “Remember to cook the trout skin-side down first in a smoking-hot pan,” he advises. “This will allow the skin to get nice and crispy and will make your experience with trout even better.”
The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project puts the spotlight on local trout this month in their Get Local campaign — a year-round initiative that brings together farmers, chefs and community members in celebration of a single seasonal ingredient. In honor of this month’s focus, Dissen and other area chefs will further elevate trout on their menus. Sunburst also held a recipe contest earlier this month. Winners and their recipes will be announced through the end of the month on Sunburst’s website and through the farm’s Facebook page. There, you can also find the recipe for one of Chef Hudson’s favorite dishes: cardamom-seared Sunburst trout fillets with lemon-yogurt sauce.
While Sunburst is willing to share recipes from their kitchen, the secret-spilling ends there. When asked what they have in the works for our kitchens in 2011, Chef Hudson keeps us guessing: “It might involve something in the caviar line, something in the cold-smoke line, or something involving local apples,” he says.
Find a list of all participating Get Local restaurants at asapconnections.org/getlocal.html. For more information about Sunburst Trout Farms, visit sunbursttrout.com, or call 648-3010. Visit The Market Place Restaurant at 20 Wall Street in downtown Asheville; they can be reached at 252-4162.
— Maggie Cramer is the communications coordinator at ASAP. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.