Smoked Trout Johnny Cakes

The view from this morning's breakfast table

The view from this morning’s breakfast table

I’ve been gone from the blog for a little bit. I apologize. I know my three loyal readers are disappointed, but I promise I am back.

A bit of excuse making. Shortly after my salt pork post, I received orders to come back to the States. A frantic few weeks to transfer, pack our house up, and then load my wife, 6 month old daughter and I onto a plane and fly the 14 hours back home. The subsequent two months saw a lot of travel, 7000 miles of driving, travel through about 12 states, a month apart from said wife and daughter, and purchasing a new house.

We are now located in Virginia Beach, Virginia… Virginia. I feel like Virginia just keeps coming there. And our new house has a bad ass kitchen which may get a post of its own in the future. Or at least my fridge will. So I will be cooking a lot and posting a bunch as well. Consider this as a welcome post to my new kitchen and the tipping of the first domino of my cooking adventures in this particular spot.

We will start with one of the dishes my wife and I missed the most, also a timely dish with the Red Sox heading to the World Series: Johnny Cakes with Smoked Trout. I never found trout in Japan, and smoked fish were very rare. So combining the two was impossible, at least that holds true for where we were. This particular recipe is based on the dish from Neptune Oyster in Boston’s North End. While known for being Boston’s Italian center, Neptune is a small little seafood restaurant that has a fantastic assortment of oysters and clams, some interesting seafood entrees, and a nice collection of wine to go with their briny fare. What they don’t have is dessert, and one visit we wanted desert and were recommended this instead. It is a bit sweet, a bit salty, and all delicious.

We took the memory of the dish home and compiled our own. It is certainly not an exact clone, but it is very close and hits the spot in the same way. One crucial difference is that we do not top the fish with caviar. While that would be doable, and certainly delicious, one of the advantages of this meal is that it is relatively affordable to make at home. The johnny cake belies its humble origin, a staple throughout the Atlantic seaboard, with many variations. They can vary in form, some being cake-like with a cornbread texture, or pan fried like a pancake. The latter is what we want in this situation. I sometimes will cook the johnny cake in a cast iron skillet with a healthy about of bacon fat to fry them. These work great with chili or with a bold stew, in place of where you would usually use cornbread but want some crunch. Because of the bold flavors from the honey and fish I want the cakes for this dish to be mild with just a hint of sweetness, so I use unflavored cooking spray in a non-stick pan.

Not cooling on an induction heat stove anymore, so my favorite frying pan is back in regular rotation.

Not cooking on an induction heat stove anymore, so my favorite frying pan is back in regular rotation.

While I do love my smoker, I have not yet attempted to smoke fish. It’s one of my projects for the winter to get a cold smoker up and running, but compared to all of the other work I need to do on the house, it is low priority. So instead I purchased some commercially smoked trout from one of my favorite grocery stores, The Fresh Market, which incidentally originated form my home town.

Creme Fish

Creme Fish

While there I purchased some star thistle raw honey, which has become one of my favorite varieties for adding complexity and depth to the already great honey flavor. There is so much variety you can get from honey that I think this is one of the key ingredients in this dish, and your pantry. Sue bee honey just won’t cut it beyond sweetening up your earl grey.

Honey + Butter = Magic

Honey + Butter = Magic

Smoked Trout Johnny Cakes

  • 1 c cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 t kosher salt, divided
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 c boiling water
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 1 T butter, plus additional for frying Johnny cakes
  • 1 T honey
  • 1 fillet smoked trout, flaked and deboned (about 1 c)
  • 1 1/2 T crème fraiche
  • 4-6 chives, minced

To make the Johnny cake batter, mix cornmeal, 1 teaspoon of salt, and sugar. Pour the boiling water over the dry ingredients and mix well. Thin the batter with milk to make it spoonable. It should be thicker than pancake batter, but still flow around the bowl. Let the mixture stand for about 5 minutes before cooking, make sure the cornmeal is no longer crunchy before frying.

Make honey butter: Place 1 tbsp butter, honey, and ½ tsp salt in a small microwave safe dish. Microwave for 45 seconds – 1 minute until melted, and stir.

Make trout spread: Mix together the trout, crème fraiche, and chives until fully incorporated. You can also double the crème fraiche and have a great seafood dip.

Lube up a frying pan with cooking spray or butter, and spoon in a quarter of the Johnny cake batter. Spread the batter out flat like a pancake. Cook 5 minutes until browned; flip and cook 5 minutes more. Repeat with the remaining cakes. Drizzle the cakes with honey butter. Use a 1/4 cup measure or other small dish to shape trout spread, and place in the center of each cake. If you are going high class, and being faithful to the restaurant, put a small spoonful of caviar on the top of the fish. Serve and enjoy.

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