The Kitchn: Lemon-garlic pasta with steelhead trout is a one-pan MVP

The Kitchn: Lemon Garlic Pasta With Steelhead Trout Is A One Pan Mvp
Yunhee Kim/TNS

A one-pan fish and pasta meal that's easy on the wallet and stuns on the table to boot.

I grew up a latchkey kid in the ’80s, which means I first learned to cook using convenient mixes made by Knorr, Rice-a-Roni, and Hamburger Helper. While this intro to cooking didn’t teach me any real meal-making skills (that would come later with a subscription to Bon Appétit), it did instill in me an appreciation for meals where the pasta could be cooked in one pan, no draining required.

Later, I figured out that I didn’t need the packets. It’s really quite simple to simmer pasta directly in the sauce — it’s just a matter of getting the ratio of dry pasta to liquid right. Once you figure this out, you can tinker around with adding protein (seared, mild and moist Steelhead trout in this case) and finish the dish with whatever cheese, fresh herbs, and flavorings you see fit (Parmesan, parsley, and lemon here). The results are a one-pan meal that could easily fetch $16 or more in a restaurant, but costs about a third of that when done at home.

What is steelhead trout, anyway?

Steelhead trout are a subspecies of trout native to the Pacific and Alaskan waters. They are anadromous, meaning they spawn in fresh water and then they migrate to the ocean where they grow larger than fresh-water trout. Just like salmon, they then return to fresh water to mate.

Their flesh is light orange, like salmon, but with a milder flavor and juicy texture that even fish-haters love. The fillets tend to be thinner than fat, farm-raised Atlantic salmon, so they cook quickly and stay moist, even when overcooked a bit.

Tips for making this one-pan pasta

Choose a thin strand pasta on the cheaper end of the spectrum. Barilla, American Beauty, De Cecco are all good choices. I’ve found pricier imported brands of 100% semolina flour pasta tend to drink up more moisture. While you can adjust by adding more broth to the pan if needed, I prefer to keep to the liquid ratio I know works.

Get the ratio right. I use 3 1/2 cups liquid to 8 ounces of thin strand pasta. To add creaminess, I like to use a combo of broth and milk, but you can opt for a broth-only sauce if you like.

Keep the pasta submerged while it’s cooking. I do this by stirring occasionally with a spatula and pushing down gently on the pasta to keep it (mostly) under the liquid as it cooks.

Keep checking for doneness. After 5 minutes, taste a strand of pasta to see if it’s done. (It will take longer than the box instructs because you’re cooking at a simmer.) Reduce the heat if the liquid is simmering away too quickly before the pasta is tender. Depending on your stove and the pasta you use, the pasta will be al dente (tender with a tiny bit of chew) around the 8-minute mark.

Finish with flavorful add-ins. Because I’m a lemon-lover, I stir in fresh lemon juice and zest for brightness. Parsley, basil, arugula, chives, or baby spinach will add color and freshness, and some cheese adds a nice touch of umami. I prefer freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, but you could also use Grana Padano (less expensive but with a similar flavor), Pecorino Romano, or even creamy chevre, if you have it on hand.

One Pan Steelhead Trout with Lemon Garlic Angel Hair Pasta

Serves 4

  • 1 large shallot
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 medium lemons, divided
  • 8 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 4 (about 5-ounce) skin-on steelhead trout or salmon fillets
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus more as needed
  • 1 cup whole or 2% milk
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 8 ounces dried angel hair pasta
  • 1/2 ounce Parmesan cheese (about 1/4 cup finely grated)

1. Dice 1 large shallot (about 1/2 cup). Finely chop 3 garlic cloves. Cut 1/2 medium lemon into 4 wedges and reserve for serving.

2. Prepare the following, adding each to the same small bowl as it is completed: Finely grate the zest of the remaining 1 medium lemon until you have 2 teaspoons. Juice the lemon until you have 3 tablespoons. Pick the leaves from 8 fresh parsley sprigs and coarsely chop (about 1/4 cup).

3. Pat 4 (about 5-ounce) trout or salmon fillets dry with paper towels. Season all over with 3/4 teaspoon of the kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large straight-sided skillet or nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Working in batches if needed, add the fish in a single layer skin side-up. Sear undisturbed for 3 minutes. Carefully slide a thin spatula under the fish to loosen, then flip the fish over. Cook on the second side until the fish is just cooked through, about 3 minutes.

5. Transfer the fish to a plate skin-side up and loosely tent with aluminum foil to keep warm. Wipe out the fishy oil in the pan with a paper towel.

6. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in the same pan over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

7. Add 2 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, 1 cup milk, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1 pinch red pepper flakes. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.

8. Break 8 ounces angel hair pasta in half with your hands and add it to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer uncovered, stirring and pressing the pasta down with a spatula to submerge it in liquid occasionally, until the pasta is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed (add more broth if needed), 7 to 8 minutes. Meanwhile, finely grate 1/2 ounce Parmesan cheese if needed (about 1/4 cup).

9. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the parsley and lemon mixture and toss with tongs to combine. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and toss to combine. Taste and season with more kosher salt and black pepper as needed.

10. Remove the skin from the fish and discard. Divide the pasta among four pasta bowls or plates and top with the fish browned side up. Serve with the lemon wedges.

Recipe notes: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to two days.

(Ivy Manning is a contributor to TheKitchn.com, a nationally known blog for people who love food and home cooking. Submit any comments or questions to editorial@thekitchn.com.)