When she closes her eyes, Teryi Youngblood can still see her father and grandfather standing in the South Carolina surf at sunset, sending their fishing lines into the breakers for sea trout, whiting, or whatever was biting. “That was every vacation,” she says. “We learned to cast a rod and reel very early in my family.”
These days, Youngblood doesn’t have much time to fish. She has four children, ranging from a toddler to a ten-year-old, and she’s running the kitchen at Passerelle Bistro in Greenville, South Carolina, a little city growing so fast it seems like there’s a crane on every corner. So instead of catching fish, Youngblood consoles herself by cooking it—most often, sweet, mild rainbow trout. “I love everything about trout,” she says. “It’s the gateway fish. Anybody who does not like fish is going to love it.”
Youngblood’s culinary training began when she made banana bread in her grandmother’s kitchen. She watched hours of Julia Child and Jacques Pépin on television and read cookbooks cover to cover during family trips to the beach. Her love of cooking eventually led her to a job as a line cook in Greenville, then as a pastry chef before becoming chef de cuisine at Passerelle in 2013.
In the spring, she likes to give trout a French twist with niçoise olives, garlic, and leeks brightened up with artichokes, asparagus, and lemon. “I’ve just always been a Francophile,” she says of her inspiration. “My daughter was born the same way. When she was four, she wanted to go to Paris, not Disneyland.” The dish comes together quickly and offers a lot of fireworks at the table for not much work. Start with butterflied rainbow trout—choose fat fillets that look pink or creamy white—and season them well. Youngblood likes Espelette pepper (ground from a mildly hot chile grown in Basque Country), but sweet paprika kissed with cayenne will do. The leeks and garlic start with a brief sauté in olive oil, followed by the vegetables and some white wine. She then sears the fillets skin side down in a skillet and places them on top of the vegetables and a bed of sliced lemons before dotting it all with butter and sending the pan to a hot oven.
The trick is to avoid overcooking the flesh but to crisp the skin, which might require just a minute or two under the broiler after the fillets have baked for about ten minutes. “Trout is pretty forgiving as far as fish go,” Youngblood says. “And the skin tastes so good when you get it crispy.”