From the Farm: Kohlrabi and Lake Trout
It is said that America loves an underdog, so hopefully there will be some new-found love for my favorite glossed-over foods: lake trout and kohlrabi.
Lake trout tends to play second fiddle to the darlings of the northern Michigan fish favorites—whitefish and salmon. Whitefish is buttery and light, the perfect fish for those who are fish-averse. Salmon on the other hand is many a fish eater’s paradise—deep and pink in color and with a pronounced flavor of fatty fish oils. And lake trout sits next to them on the fishmonger’s iced display, shamefully passed over again and again.
Lake trout is, for me, the perfect mix between the two more favored fish. It is lighter and more universally appealing than salmon. It prefers colder water and is slower to grow - which develops more inter-muscular fat and flavor - than whitefish. Additionally, like salmon, its body is thicker than whitefish but the skin is thin and delicate making it the perfect style of fish to take a heavy pan sear, making the skin crispy without overcooking the flesh.
Because of the good level of fat in lake trout it is also my favorite smoked fish. The smoke does not over power the meaty flavor of the fish and it never feels dried out after suffering the slings and arrows of salt cure and fruitwood smoking.
Similarly, kohlrabi fails to grab the attention of market goers because it is not the more recognizable broccoli or cabbage. It is a bit funny to look at, an alien in the garden. In fact, Jess always says that it looks like a vegetable designed by committee—a big tap root that grows a large round ball just above the ground with a mop top of big green collard-like leaves shooting out in all directions.
But those strange looks mask one of the most versatile and crowd-pleasing vegetables we grow. The ball is crisp and refreshing like Midwestern jicama. It can be baked into a gratin like a potato or served raw as a vehicle for dips and spreads. And kohlrabi is a brassica and, like others in its family, is one of the most nutrient-rich vegetables that can be folded into our daily diet. The leaves are also edible and can be used any way that you’d use collards or kale.
And to tie it all together, these two underdogs love each other. I strive for balance and complexity in every dish I make. The refreshing coolness of the kohlrabi moderates the rich flavor of the trout flesh. The silky texture of the fish highlights the crunch of the kohlrabi.
The following recipes show off the best features of both lake trout and kohlrabi, hopefully making these culinary underdogs the champions of your kitchen.
Smoked Lake Trout Brandade
This is an “Up-North” play on traditional brandade, a Mediterranian dish which combines salt cod, potatoes, cream, olive oil and garlic in to a luscious spread. Here smoked lake trout is substituted for the salt cod to make the spread slightly less salty and a bit smoky.
I usually see brandade served with toast or pita. I have started pairing it with planks of kohlrabi and cucumber. The crisp coolness of these two vegetables plays off the warm richness of the brandade to balance the whole lot.
1 lb Yukon gold potato, washed
1 lb smoked lake trout, skin and bones removed
2 C cream
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ C olive oil
4 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
salt to taste
- Tie the herbs together with butcher’s twine
- Cut the potatoes into 1 inch chunks
- In a large, deep pan combine the potatoes, cream, herbs and a big pinch of salt and black pepper and warm gently over medium heat
- Cook the potatoes in the cream until they are cooked through and break easily when pushed with the back of a spoon
- Remove from the heat
- Add the lake trout and garlic and let sit together for about 10 minutes
- Remove the herbs
- In either a food processor or a mixer with a paddle attachment, blend the mixture until it is smooth while drizzling in the olive oil
- Taste and add salt and pepper as desired
- Transfer to a heat proof dish (I like using 4oz jelly jars for individual servings)
- Before serving rewarm until hot (some olive oil may split and bubble, that’s ok)
- Serve with kohlrabi and cucumbers cut into 3 inch planks for dipping
Seared Lake Trout with Kohlrabi Yogurt Slaw
The saddest thing in a restaurant is to cook a piece of fish so that the skin is beautifully browned, salty and crispy and then to see it thrown in the compost bin because the diner scrapped it off and cast it aside.
The bulk of the omega 3 fatty acids in fish, are found along the bloodline between the flesh and the skin. Beyond matters of health, the crispy skin against the delicate flakey trout and the crunch of the kohlrabi slaw is not to be missed!
2 large kohlrabi
½ C greek yogurt
2 T olive oil
½ tsp cumin seed
1 bu mint, torn
pinch of salt
2 lb lake trout, skin on cut into 4 pieces
- Heat the olive oil until hot and remove from the heat
- Add the cumin seed and let steep for 10 minutes
- Cut the tops and bottoms off the kohlrabi and peel either with a vegetable peeler or a sharp knife
- Slice into ¼ inch rounds
- Stack those rounds and cut into matchsticks
- In a bowl combine the yogurt and cumin
- Add the kohlrabi, torn mint and 2 pinches of salt
10 minutes before serving
- Remove the fish from refrigeration and transfer to a plate resting the fish in a single layer with the skin side up
- Preheat the oven to 350F
- Heat a heavy-bottomed frying pan on the stove
- Add a glug of neutral oil until very hot
- Dab the skin of the fish with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture
- Sprinkle the fish with salt and sear the fish, skin side down
- Sprinkle the flesh of the fish (now facing up) with salt
- Cook the fish on the stove top until the fish will move easily when pushed from the side (this means that the skin is fully seared and won’t stick)
- Transfer the frying pan to the oven and continue to cook until just cooked through
- Remove from the oven
- Transfer the fish to a plate, skin side up
- Serve with a pile of the kohlrabi slaw on the top