Saturday, October 8, 2016


North of the provincial capital of Cuenca (Castilla-La Mancha, central Spain) heading towards the high sierras is an idyllic region of fast-moving trout streams, mountain retreats, forested valleys, tumbling waterfalls, and an “enchanted city,” where wind and rain over several millennia have carved karstic limestone into fantasmal shapes. Hugging the rocky cliffs above the River Júcar is the village of Villalba de la Sierra.

Across the bridge and nestled in a wooded area next to the river is El Tablazo, a hotel in a converted flour mill on a small lake. Javi Alegria, fisherman and outdoorsman, runs a trout fishing concession on the lake. Here I caught my first-ever fish.

Small lake is stocked with rainbow trout. Water flows from nearby River Júcar.

“Grip the reel here and hold the line down with your finger, then swing the line out beyond those reeds, letting go of the line at the same time.” Javi Alegria gives me some basic instructions and hands me the fishing rod. The hook on the end is baited with three kernels of corn.

I cast and the line gets snagged. I do it again. And wait. Willows ring the small lake, dribbling branches in the shimmery water. I can hear the sound of the nearby river bouncing over stones. I pull the line in just a little. The float bobs, I feel a tug. Oh my goodness! I slowly reel in the line until, dangling before me, is a lovely rainbow trout. I am so excited that my shouts disturb the peaceful scene.

My first ever fish! (©Photo copyright JDDallet)

I landed two more of the beautiful fish and proudly delivered them to the kitchen of Hotel El Tablazo. My friends and I dined on our catch that evening.

Javi stocks the lake at El Tablazo with farmed fish and opens the fishing concession to guests. He weighs the catch on the way out and charges accordingly. Javi says even fly-fishermen come to the lake because they can fish year-round.

Javi Alegria at El Tablazo Hotel and Restaurant (©Photo copyright JDDallet)

Just a few meters from the hotel, on the River Júcar, Javi fly-fishes for wild trout, sin muerte, catch and release. After the thrill of landing the trout, with no barb on the hook, it is released unscathed. Not dinner. He shows me his selection of nymphs and dry flies.

In bygone days trout was everyday fare in the cooking of Castilla-La Mancha. Every mill-run was a source of trout. In the River Tajo in Toledo, trout was so abundant that it was pickled in escabeche. Now trout that appears at the market or in restaurants is always farmed rainbow trout. That’s what I buy at a local market.

Fresh trout doesn’t need much gussying up. I usually wrap the whole, gutted fish in a thin slice of serrano ham, dredge it in flour or corn meal and fry until skin is crisp. I love eating that crisp skin.

But, if you have a good source and can enjoy trout frequently, it’s great to have a few variations on the tried and true. Javi at El Tablazo gave me a recipe for stuffing a big trout (2 ¼- pounder) with pine nuts, bacon and smoked salmon. Here’s another recipe, using individually-sized trout with a mushroom stuffing

Trout are filleted and filled with mushroom-ham stuffing.

These are individually-sized trout, weighing about 3/4 pound whole.

Trout can be skinned and tiny bones removed. Serve the stuffing on the side.

Trout Stuffed with Ham and Mushrooms
Truchas Rellenas con Jamón y Setas

Crispy skin, moist flesh, savory stuffing.

Use wild or cultivated mushrooms for the stuffing.

Serves 4. 

Farmed trout, center spines removed. Fish still has fine pin bones.
4 trout, each about 12 ounces, filleted (8 fillets)
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup chopped shallots
1 cup chopped mushrooms (about 3 ounces)
2 ounces chopped serrano ham or bacon
Pinch of thyme
1 cup white wine, divided
¼ cup fresh breadcrumbs
Flour for dredging fish
Olive oil for frying
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Toasted almonds

Sprinkle the fillets with salt and let stand while preparing the stuffing.

Heat the oil in a small skillet. Add the shallots and sauté 2 minutes on a medium heat. Add the mushrooms and ham and sauté 5 minutes. Add the thyme and ¼ cup of the wine and cook until liquid is evaporated. Stir in the breadcrumbs. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Spread the mushroom mixture on each of four trout fillets. Top with another fillet, pressing gently to close. (The fillets can be tied with kitchen twine, although, with care, they will hold together pretty well without tying.) 

Sandwich stuffing between two fillets. Dredge in flour.
Dredge the trout in flour, patting off excess. Heat the oil to a depth of ¼ inch in a heavy skillet. Fry the trout, in two batches, if necessary, on medium heat until browned, about 4 minutes. Turn and cook about 4 minutes more. Remove to a serving platter and keep warm.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of oil from the skillet. Add the lemon juice and remaining ¾ cup wine. Boil 3 minutes until reduced by half. Add the parsley to the sauce and pour over the fish. Scatter toasted almonds on top.

(Photo courtesy of El Tablazo, used with permission.)

Hotel El Tablazo (Villalba de la Sierra, Cuenca) in a converted flour mill, has a lovely terrace by a bubbling brook and a restaurant with superb renditions of traditional food (such as morteruelo, a ragout of game). Nearby is Villalba de la Sierra, a village that’s hardly emerged from another century. Shopkeepers lean in doorways and old folk sit in the sun in the plaza against a backdrop of white-washed walls.

Another trout recipe is here.


  1. What a fun blog, Janet. Congratulations on your catch and its looks to be a very tempting meal idea. I also was tempted by your "Eggs in a Nest" receipt in the subsequent post. A quick yet tasty supper for those of us in the UK. Thanks.

    1. JohnD: Glad you enjoy the blog. We cooks love feedback. My fishing expedition was a few years ago. Now I fish at the market.