One of my favorite easy summertime meals is to buy the whole trout, season it simply, and have my husband grill it to a crisp. While he’s outside, I’m setting out the ingredients for a roll-your-own meal of lettuce and rice paper wraps. The noodles were boiled earlier in the day (or maybe even days before), and the lettuce, herbs, dipping sauce, and rich green onions were prepared in advance too. When I’m short on time, I omit the green onions (mỡhành, which means “fatty onion” in Vietnamese) and substitute store-bought fried onions. To go over the top, I prefer both.
My husband brings in the cooked fish and we start our leisurely meal, fashioning rice paper rolls with all the accouterments. We compete to see who rolls the most handsome ones and laugh when an overstuffed roll busts. We sip on beer or wine while waiting for the rice paper to soften. It’s a perfect Vietnamese one-dish meal, which can be enjoyed as a light lunch or dinner. Details on rice paper and a roll-your-own tutorial are on this page.
RICH GREEN ONIONS
3 tablespoons neutral oil, or 2 tablespoons neutral oil plus 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
¾ cup thinly sliced green onion, white and green parts
Fine sea salt
6 ounces small dried round rice noodles (maifun), or 8 ounces dried rice capellini
2 or 3 whole cleaned, gutted trout (about 2¼ pounds total)
About 2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
Fine sea salt and recently ground black pepper
¼ cup fried onions or shallots (optional)
1 cup Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce (this page)
Leaves from 1 head soft-leaf lettuce (such as butter, Boston, or red or green leaf), or 4 to 5 cups gently packed baby lettuce
1 small handful fresh mint, basil, or other soft-leaf fresh herbs (except cilantro)
1 small handful fresh cilantro
24 rice papers, each 8 inches wide
To make the rich green onions In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the oil until hot (a green onion slice should sizzle on contact). Add the green onion and a large pinch of salt and stir. When the green onion has softened, about 30 seconds, remove the pan from the heat. Transfer the pan’s contents to a small heatproof bowl and let cool completely, about 15 minutes, before using. (Cover and keep for up to three hours at room temperature or refrigerate for up to 7 days.)
Meanwhile, in a pot of unsalted water, boil the noodles until chewy-tender; the cooking time depends on the noodle and brand. Drain in a colander, rinse with cold water, and drain well. Set aside or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to three days.
Rinse the trout well and pat dry with paper towels. Using a sharp knife, make crosswise slits, at a 45- to 60-degree angle and ¼ to ½ inch deep, on both sides of the belly in three or four places per side, spacing them about 1¼ inches apart. Rub the canola oil inside and outside each fish. Season the cavity and skin with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Prepare a medium charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill to medium (you can hold your hand 6 inches above the grill for 4 to 5 seconds) and lightly oil the grate.
Place the trout on the grate and grill for 4 to 6 minutes on each side, until the skin is crisp and browned here and there. Using two metal spatulas, or one metal spatula plus tongs or a carving fork, nudge one spatula under the fish to loosen it from the grate and use the other tool to assist in the flip. (If the skin sticks, it’s usually the first side. By the time you turn the fish, it’s cooked enough that the second side doesn’t stick. Present the prettier side up.) The trout is ready when the meat is opaque. Peek inside the cavity; there should be no sign of blood. Transfer the fish to a platter and, if you like, decorate each with a little of the rich green onion (include the oil) and fried onions and place on the table.
If needed, soften and refresh the noodles by sprinkling with water and microwaving on high for 60 to 90 seconds. Since the noodles are unwieldy, arrange them as twenty-four nests on two plates or in low bowls. Set on the table with the dipping sauce. Arrange the lettuce, herbs, and cilantro on one or two platters, and the rice paper on another. Set each place with a dinner plate, a small bowl for the dipping sauce, and chopsticks or a fork and a spoon. Put out two shallow bowls filled with 1 to 2 inches of very warm water for softening the rice papers.