Taking sides: five Atlanta chefs on Georgia v. North Carolina trout

Look for seasonal renditions of local trout on Atlanta menus

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Trout at Ink & Elm
Trout at Ink & Elm

Courtesy of Ink & Elm

Atlanta’s distance from the sea sends local chefs to the farm-raising waterways of North Georgia and North Carolina in search of sustainable seafood. Sunburst, Bramlett, and Enchanted Springs are just some of the suppliers you’ll see on Atlanta menus. We caught up with five chefs to find out whose side they’re on when it comes to sourcing trout from southern streams.

Chef Stephen Sharp of Ink & Elm

Source: I’m getting my trout from Enchanted Springs. It’s farmed trout, but from North Georgia. Tom Detko sources the fish from his farm and some farms close to him.The trout he brings in is still in rigor when we get it, which means it was just harvested. The meatiness and quality and consistency are pretty spot on. I get the trout whole and am able to see how fresh the fish is. When it comes in rigor, we have to wait a few days to take the bones out because it is still so firm. It is superior product to anything I’ve come across. 

I’ve usedSunburst Trout from North Carolina in the past. It’s a nice and fatty fleshed fish. It’s such a bright reddish orange color, and I don’t get as much of that on the Georgia trout. It was a beautiful fish, almost like a sea trout because you can’t get that color unless it’s feeding off a certain plankton. If you put two side by side, the Georgia trout is more of a pinkish color and not as bright. I do like the color of the fish that’s coming out of North Carolina.

Preparation: We serve it whole. I like to break down the fish and take out the pin bones; I leave the backbone in so it stays intact. We then descale the fish and stuff it with a mousse made up of rock shrimp that we’re getting out of Florida. We take that herb and shrimp mouse and fill the cavity; then we close it up, tie it, and sear it whole to get the skin nice and crispy. We serve it with some salsa verde.

Chef Todd Ginsberg of General Muir

Source: Inland Seafood. It’s a farm-raised North Carolina trout and is very consistent. It’s broken down and comes to us already pan dressed. I have [sourced Georgia trout before]. It’s been some time. Most of the Georgia trout that is available to us is whole fish, which is spectacular, but it takes a lot of time to break them down. I prefer to have them pan-dressed and ready to go.

Preparation: We’ve had it on our menu since we opened. We’ve steamed it, smoked it, cooked it in a cast-iron skillet, we’ve poached it. What we’re doing right now is a cast-iron preparation. We start off with oil and season the trout, keep the filets together, skin side down. Then we cook it unilaterally on that one side for the entire cooking time. We finish it for a quick second under the low broiler for four to five seconds, which kisses the top side to finish cooking. Then we fold the two filets back together and plate it.

Chef Joe Schafer of King + Duke 

Source: We get it from North Georgia from a couple various sustainable trout farms up there, but it’s all through Inland Seafood. It’s not a specific farm, but we’re looking for a certain product that is raised a certain way, which is in a sustainable environment, treated well, and at the size and cut that we want. I don’t really accept anything outside of Georgia, though I’ll go to North Carolina every now and then. I really like Sunburst Trout Farm. They’re a pinkish hue because of the feed, but it can be expensive for our restaurant when you factor in shipping. We don’t use it on a regular basis, but if we get them in we’ll do a special.

Preparation: We’ve done it a couple different ways, and both have been pretty popular. We start with butchering it: head off, tail off, butterflied, boneless but attached by the skin at the spine so it’s a double filet. Then we take an onion mixture, like scallion tops and bottoms, shallots, and sweet onions, and make them nice and soft and stuff that between the filets. Previously, we were wrapping that whole fish in homemade bacon, sort of like mummifying it and getting it crispy, but right now we cook it in stone-ground cornmeal in the cast iron skillet..

Chef Matthew Basford of Canoe

Source: Enchanted Springs, which is run by Tom Detko out of Mineral Bluff, Georgia. We’ve been dealing with him for years. He buys it from a processor, and they use nine different farms to get the best of the best trout.I prefer him mainly because of the reliability. His product is always great. It’s one less thing to worry about because he’ll let you know when it’s not quality fish and won’t bring it in. We’ve been using him for nine-plus years.

Preparation: Our trout is pan-seared with a nice crispy skin, and we serve it medium with a lobster rangoon ravioli, which is made of lobster meat, a little bit of green onions, cream cheese, chile paste, pickled mustard seeds and black vinegar. The mustard cream is a beurre blanc sauce with a little house-pickled mustard seeds finished with chile oil spice to give it some heat. We’ve had this preparation on the menu for three months. I always have trout on the menu, but we change up the accompaniments. 

Chef Billy Allin of Cakes & Ale

Source: Sunburst Trout Farm in North Carolina. Most trout in restaurants is going to be farmed trout. Sunburst does an exceptional job of being a steward of the land and keeping the quality of the fish high. They’ve got as good or the best tasting trout I’ve ever had. I have used Bramlett trout from Georgia. I like it fine, but over time I’ve developed a relationship with a chef friend in North Carolina who happens to work with the owners of Sunburst Trout Farm.  They’re nice, good people, and that’s really the reason we chose to stick with them.

Preparation: Trout is about the only stable thing on our menu. We have had whole-roasted trout on the menu for three-plus years at the new location and about one year at the old location. We now roast it in the wood-burning oven, and we serve it with any list of seasonal accompaniments and a relish. Right now, that’s corn, shell peas, red peppers, onions, garlic, herbs and then we have a agro dolce sauce that’s made with a sweet and sour vinegar mixture and garlic aioli.

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