Written by Tom Brooks, Director of Food & Beverage at The Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa

Over Memorial Day weekend, I was fortunate enough to spend some much-needed downtime off the coast of Cape Cod; my friend Gary and I hit the waters for a bit of striped bass fishing. Let’s just say it’s a good thing that (a) he knows how to fish and (b) I know how to cook.

Tom (l.) and Gary (r.) fishing off Cape Cod

I spent all afternoon in a futile attempt to have anything take a nibble on my line. Gary, meanwhile, was pulling in fish hand-over-fist, including a 33” and 34” bass. With the easy work done (well, he made it look easy anyway), it fell on me to come up with a tasty recipe, so we could enjoy our (ok… his) catch at dinner that night.

Voilà! Pan-seared striped bass with saffron-barley risotto and gingered shoestring carrots, all in a green pea & basil broth.

It may sound complicated (You’ll dazzle your friends when they asked what you’ve cooked!) but it’s actually a pretty simple recipe. I’ve adjusted the recipe to make it more Vermont-ish, using brook trout instead of sea bass. It serves six people.


Saffron-Barley Risotto
2 cups barley
4 cups chicken stock (or water)
1 tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped fine
1 pinch saffron
1 bay leaf
Bring liquid to a boil. Sauté onion and barley until onion turns opaque. Add half the liquid, the bay leaf, and the saffron. Simmer, and stir in rest of liquid until barley is tender and creamy.

Spring Pea and Basil Broth
2 lbs. fresh spring peas or frozen peas
2 shallots
1 bunch basil
1 ½ qt. chicken stock
1 tbsp. butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté chopped shallots and fresh peas until shallots are opaque and the peas are a pretty, bright green color. Add stock and basil, and bring to a boil. Simmer until peas are tender. Strain peas and basil out of chicken stock and purée until very smooth. To adjust thickness, add chicken stock to purée until the sauce is very fine and just coats the back of a wooden spoon. Strain sauce if necessary to keep it very fine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

Gingered Shoestring Carrots
4 large carrots, peeled and julienned
1 large piece of fresh ginger peeled and grated
2 shallots, chopped fine
1 tsp. butter
1 navel orange, zested
1 cup orange juice
Sauté shallots, carrots, ginger and orange zest in medium pan. Add juice, and reduce mixture until the carrots are tender and caramelized.

Brook Trout
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
12 3-4 oz. skin-on brook trout fillets
Salt and pepper
Season fillets generously with salt and pepper, especially on the skin side. Get oil hot in a cast iron skillet and start cooking fish skin side down to get the skin very crispy. Flip and cook quickly on flesh side being sure not to overcook. Lay on paper towel to soak up excess grease.

Putting it all together
While fish is cooking, ladle 6 oz. broth into a bowled dinner plate. Spoon out a generous mound of barley risotto and lay fillet on top, finishing with carrots.