For those of you who laugh out loud at the idea of turning on the oven to make dinner during what I hope will be final heatwave of the summer, look no further than East Meredith, New York's Max Creek Hatchery and their smoked trout. "On these kinds of days, people don't even want to think about cooking," says Dave Harris, who has been selling the trout at the Greenmarket for 16 years, "and smoked trout's ready to go. I like to tell people it's habit forming."
It is indeed. Harris's smoked fish is rich, sweet, and complex. It is applewood-smoked and sold in vacuum packs, so that it can keep for up to three months in the fridge. I keep one on hand in my refrigerator at all times; it's a convenience food fit for a king.
Harris started Max Creek Hatchery after a particularly bad encounter with "frozen, thawed, everything but reincarnated" fish that his wife brought home from the supermarket. Having grown up fishing and eating fresh fish, he was appalled. A few aquaculture classes and homemade fish tanks later, Harris was putting fish in ponds for people when Rick Bishop of Mountain Sweet Berry Farm came knocking. "He called me up one day and he said, 'Do you have 10,000 fish?' I ended up selling him 4,600, and he told me about the market and he said, 'You gotta try that.' So the next year I started." Now Harris has a legion of devoted customers, and still sells fish just across the market from Bishop.
Harris also sells fresh rainbow trout and brook trout, although the season for brook trout is already over. The rainbow trout are as fresh as can be—Harris will remind you that they were caught just the evening before he came to the market—and though it's hard to capture in photos, their skin has a multicolored sheen when they are this fresh (hence the name). The fish aren't filleted, but they are completely cleaned and ready to cook. "I like to pan fry them, but I'm a farmer, not a chef. Pan fry them with a little butter, or bacon fat."
In addition to the smoked and fresh trout, in the summer Harris sells a selection of greens. Watercress, which grows in the overflow of his spring, is some of the best at the market, peppery and fresh, great eaten raw in salads. In addition to being delicious, watercress is believed to have medicinal properties; one customer swore that Harris's watercress cured her friend's gout, and another used the watercress to make a tea that she said worked better than her medicine. Harris seemed slightly skeptical that this was all true, but hedged his bets, saying "It couldn't hurt. I like to do both, personally"—eating plenty of watercress but still taking his prescriptions.
This week Harris was also selling arugula and deep, dark purple bulls blood beet greens. "Nice name. I had to grow them just for the name," Harris said; they're an excellent substitute anywhere you'd use spinach, with a pronounced beet flavor. My favorite part about Harris's greens, aside from how great they taste, is that he washes everything before selling it. A bed of fresh, local watercress or arugula topped with flaked smoked trout and a simple vinaigrette, and you didn't even have to wash the greens. It doesn't get more convenient, or much tastier, than that. Later in the season, Harris will sell Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes.
Max Creek Hatchery can be found at the Union Square Greenmarket on Wednesdays. ("I love your city, but only for one day a week." -Dave Harris)
Click through the slideshow for pictures and more on Max Creek Hatchery's offerings. For past profiles of Greenmarket vendors, click here. To find a market near you, check out the Greenmarket's list of locations.
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