I love-love-love the tale behind the poisson d'avril, aka the April fish. And to think! I went my whole life not knowing this slippery story until last year when J filled me in, bless him!
If you already know, just skip ahead to the recipe. If not, allow me to unwind this kinky yarn:
Waaay back in the day, Charles IX decreed that January 1 would officially be the new New Year's Day in France. Now, personally, I resent that decision because the holidays get so bunched up in late December that I'm never ready for another one on January 1. It just seems overcrowded. I've had more than enough hors d'oeuvres and cocktails by the end of Christmas, thank you very much.
It seems the good people of 1564 felt similarly. They'd been whooping it up on April 1 for pretty much... forever (doesn't late winter / early spring seem a perfectly reasonable time of year to whoop it up?), and they were none too thrilled with stupid old Charlie IX.
Plenty of other people didn't hear about the change of dates at all. Boy howdy! Didn't they look stupid kicking up their crazy yellow tights and crimson doublets, clowning around and celebrating the new year on April 1st when everyone else was calmly calculating the results of their first fiscal quarter.
It became a common prank in France to attempt to sneak a dead fish into the clothing of one's friends. (A dangerous liaison, indeed!) Sticking a paper fish to friends and loved ones has become the more modern (and far less stanky) version of this bizarre ritual.
While I may try to sneak a paper fish or two onto some of my co-workers (not that they'd have any idea what I was on about...), I'd much prefer to receive my April fish in the form of dinner.
Thanks to a pair of whole, fresh rainbow trout, brussels sprouts, some herbs, a shallot and a handful of mushrooms, it's easy to whip up a schmantzy dinner in no time flat. (No foolin'!)
A duxelles (dook-SEHL) sounds challenging (that's French for you), but it's just sauteéed mushrooms and onions (or shallots) with a little thyme and some parsley. Divide the mixture between two cleaned and trimmed trout, rub on a little olive oil and roast. And that's about all there is to it.
Trout Duxelles (Serves 2)
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 large or 2 medium-sized shallots, sliced thin
1 lb button mushrooms, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbsp red wine or sherry
1/2 tsp thyme
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
2 rainbow trout, cleaned and trimmed
Olive oil (to coat the trout)
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat and add the shallots. Sauté until fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Add the mushrooms to the pan with a dash of salt and pepper. Stir frequently to avoid uneven cooking.
4. After 15 minutes or so, the mushrooms should have shrunken considerably and should be apt to stick to the pan a bit. Add the wine or sherry to the pan to deglaze. (Take this opportunity to work any stuck bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.)
5. Add herbs and simmer until the alcohol has reduced. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
6. Place trout on a baking sheet and rub exterior with a little olive oil.
7. Divide the duxelles and spoon into the body cavity of each trout. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until trout flesh is white and opaque. Serve with a good ale and a crisp salad, a nice rice pilaf or roasted vegetables.