Welcome back to Chef in the Kitchen, a recurring Eater photo feature where we boldly go where few diners have gone before — into Portland restaurant kitchens — to get a sneak peek of the chef du jour hard at work.
Little Bird chef Erik Van Kley is best known for putting his spin on French dishes, but one night at dinner, he received a bit of Southern inspiration while dining at the Screen Door. "I go there for fried chicken like most people do — it's fantastic," Van Kley says. "I was bored with our trout; I've never been excited about selling trout, but it's integral on our menu. So I wondered what would happen if I dragged whole trout through buttermilk." The resulting dish, a greasy-spoon appropriate "chicken-fried" trout, now appears on the Little Bird menu with both Southern and Thai influences.
To make the dish, Van Kley soaks a whole trout in buttermilk, then dredges the fish in a mixture of rice flour and corn starch. "We were thinking of the fried dish in Thai restaurants," Van Kley says. "We put the whole thing in the fryer and I was tickled with results." After emerging from the deep-fryer, the fish gets plated atop a mix of Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, and radishes; it's then drizzled with gribiche and more Djion, then built up with pickled carrots, deep-fried capers, chives, fresh dill, and fresh chervil. In a nod to the Thai influence, it's served with butter lettuce cups for a "choose your own adventure" style of eating.
"It's fun to do," says Van Kley of the dish, which he sees living on the Little Bird menu for the foreseeable future. "My rule of thumb on flipping out menu items is, if you can't think of something that's as good, then don't change it."
· Little Bird Bistro [Official site]
· All Previous Greasy Spoons Week Coverage [Eater PDX]