Pepita-Crusted Trout with Citrus and Avocado Salsa

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Continuing with this year’s commitment to eat more fish in more interesting ways, I put together a crusted trout recipe that can easily work for any filet of fish. After much tasting research and further contemplating my own preferences, I’ve found that I like planning a salsa, relish, or other bright companion for my fish because it adds a separate, distinct layer of flavor that really balances out the fish. It also makes the whole dish prettier. Along those lines, this dish is quick to prepare and the salsa can be made with either fresh or canned ingredients, depending what you have on hand, so it’s perfect for a weeknight dinner or for serving at an impromptu dinner party.

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Recipe: Pepita-Crusted Trout with Citrus and Avocado Salsa


  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Serves: 4
  • Prep Time: 20 min
  • Cook Time: 15 min


  • 1 c. chopped grapefruit segments
  • 1 c. chopped pineapple
  • ½ small jalapeno, diced (or more if you want a really spicy salsa)
  • 2/3 c. diced red onion
  • 1 medium avocado, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • ¼ c. chopped parsley
  • 4 trout filets, 4 oz each, deboned with skin on
  • ½ c. fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1/2 c. white whole wheat flour
  • 2 egg whites whisked with 1 Tbsp. water
  • 1 c. prepared pepita crust (recipe follows this one)
  • 4 Tbsp. grape seed oil
  • 2 Tbsp. butter


  1. Add the first seven ingredients (grapefruit through parsley) into a medium bowl and toss gently to combine. Prepare up to 30 minutes before serving and leave in refrigerator for the flavors to meld.
  2. Place the trout filets in a large zip top bag and add the orange juice, moving the filets around in the bag to be sure each is covered with juice. Marinade in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes and no more than 30 minutes.
  3. While the fish marinades, prepare the breading stations. Spread the flour and pepita crust evenly on two large plates or in two pyrex dishes. Have a third empty plate or dish ready as well.
  4. When the fish is done marinating, remove one filet from the bag and shake gently to remove any excess orange juice. Lay the filet skin-side down in the flour and press to coat evenly. Sprinkle the flesh side with salt and pepper and flip to coat evenly with the flour.
  5. Place the flour-coated filet on the empty plate, skin-side down, and brush the flesh side with a thin, even layer of the egg white and water mixture.
  6. Place the fillet flesh-side down into the pepita crust and press gently to coat evenly with the crust.
  7. Reserve the crusted fish on a large cookie sheet and repeat the coating process with the other three filets until all are crusted.
  8. Heat 2 Tbsp of the olive oil and 1 Tbsp. of the butter over medium high heat in a large sauté pan until a small dusting of flour tossed into the pan sizzles (pan should be very hot and the butter will begin to brown). Place two filets crust-side down in the pan, being careful not to overlap, and sauté for two minutes without moving. Flip the filets to the skin side and cook for 2-3 minutes more until the fish is cooked through.
  9. Move the cooked fish to a sheet pan and keep warm in a 200 degree oven.
  10. Wipe the pan out and repeat with the remaining oil, butter, and fish filets.
  11. To serve, place one filet on a plate and top with about ½ c. of the salsa.

Pepita Crust
My market pre-makes fish crust so I don’t have to make my own, but really, it’s a simple thing to do. If you don’t have access to pre-made crust at your local market, you can put your own together very quickly by combining equal parts roasted pepita seeds (or any other nut) and pre-made bread crumbs or panko. I like to use the pepitas whole because they provide a nice contrast to the finer texture of bread crumbs or panko, but if you like your crust a little more uniform in texture, give the pepitas a quick whirl in a mini-chopper to break the up a bit. You should be able to buy the pepitas already roasted and if you can find them, try those roasted with tamarind for a little extra flavor. Season the mixture with a little salt and pepper to finish. Make a bunch of this crust – it will keep for about 6 weeks in your pantry and it’s great for crusting chicken as well as fish, or for tossing with your favorite steamed vegetables.

Experiments in Fish Crust

Over the years I’ve experimented with different ways to crust something and have the crust 1) stay on and 2) not burn before that something is finished cooking. After some successes and failures with fish in particular, I’ve come to the conclusion that the standard three step breading technique is really the best way to create a crust that really sticks to the fish. The combination of flour and egg whites creates light but sticky “glue” for the crust and helps keep the crust intact while the fish is cooking. If you’re not familiar with this technique, it’s fairly easy but does get a couple of extra dishes dirty:

  1. Season the fish with salt and pepper then dredge both sides in flour. In this recipe the fish is a skin-on trout filet so only the flesh side is actually crusted. Even so, the flour on the skin side helps the skin crisp and brown when it hits the pan.
  2. Brush the flesh side of the filet with an egg white mixed with a bit of water. If you are crusting a piece of fish without skin, you brush all sides with the egg white and water mixture because you’ll want to coat all sides.
  3. Press the flesh side of the filet into the crust and press down lightly to be sure all areas of the flesh are covered by the crust. If your fish doesn’t have skin, repeat this for all sides of the fish until the whole piece is covered.

To give plenty of room to work with the fish, I use three large plates or Pyrex dishes for each step of the process and work with one filet at a time. Big mounds of flour and crust in small dishes make it hard to coat the fish evenly, and it’s much easier to brush the fish with the egg white when it’s lying flat because you can use both hands – one to hold and one to brush. I reserve the crusted fish on a big cookie sheet without overlapping them until I’m done crusting all of the filets.

An even crust that sticks fairly well is only half of the battle. Some things that make cooking crusted fish easier are:

  • Use a combination of grape seed oil and butter. The butter helps the fish brown nicely but the grape seed oil gives you a higher smoke point so you can cook the fish more rapidly.
  • Cook on medium-high heat and be sure the oil/butter combination is hot when you start cooking. If the fat and the pan aren’t hot enough, the fish will taste greasy and the crust won’t crisp.
  • Finish thick pieces of fish in a 400 degree oven. A filet like trout is thin enough that it will cook in 4-5 minutes without burning the crust. A thicker filet (more than ½ inch) will need more time to cook and the crust will burn before the fish is finished. Brown all sides of a thick filet in a pan and then transfer to a cookie sheet to finish in the oven for a few more minutes.
  • Don’t crowd the pan. If the fish overlaps while browning you’ll have uneven browning and crust that sticks to other pieces of fish. Work in batches as necessary and keep the finished fish warm in a 200 degree oven. The fish cooks so quickly the first pieces won’t really have time to cool down.



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