Cooking trout is an art, not a task.

It begins with the desire to reach into the mysteries of the river, to taste the elusive fruit of water running over rocks and in secret places, water, muscular, fluid and speaking in mystic tongues. Observe them if you can, these ghosts of the river that alert one to their presence with the splash of their laughing departure. Desire to be them, to flow in streams and currents, to swim unceasingly through night and day and night again, the rhythm beneath the voice of the water.

Then with your heart filled with silent awe, select your trout. The ideal trout should weigh no more than 200 grams, or slightly less than half a pound. For this I recommend shopping rather than fly-fishing, as one cannot be sure of catching anything, let alone the right size. I must confess too, that I shrink from the act of slitting that silver belly to spill its life back into the river. My city-bred squeamishness cannot encompass the steps between the living river fish and the delicate pink flesh, glistening with butter.

Be particular! Do not accept anything over 225 grams! This is important. In larger fish, the fine lateral bones are too developed and do not disintegrate during cooking. Unless you are a freak-show performer, adept at swallowing needles, avoid large trout at all costs! Make sure the eyes are not sunken and grey. They should be clear with a flash of sunlight still trapped within them. You will need one trout per person. Do not flinch when you pay the price, something fine and beautiful has been sacrificed. Do not invite any bleeding-heart bunny-huggers to dinner either, they will ruin the experience for you.

Do not, under any circumstances, place your trout in the refrigerator or freezer “for another day”! Trout should be eaten on the day they died. If you think frozen fish is still fish, let the trout live and stick to frozen fish cakes! Do not dishonour the noble trout! Wash the trout in fresh water. Feel the wetness, slipperiness of its speckled skin. Run a finger through its body cavity and feel the paper-thin ridges of the bones, marvel at the beauty of the fins, translucent fans that convert water into speed. Lay it on a board and pat it dry with kitchen paper, dab the excess water out of the body cavity. Do not attempt to wipe the protective slime off the skin - this will be necessary for the next step.

trout almandineSet your oven to 160 C. On another board, mix flour, salt and pepper. Don't be tempted to add anything more, this is not tuna! Roll the trout in the mixture. If you have stripped its skin down to dryness, the flour will not stick. Rub a little of the flour inside the fish. Cut slivers of cold, fresh, salted butter and place them inside too. Melt some butter in a small dish. Place the fish in a shallow cooking dish where it can lie comfortably at full length. Splash some butter onto it with a soft brush. Commit your trout to the oven.

Whatever vegetable or salad is to accompany the fish should have been prepared by this stage, preferably entrusted to a novitiate, eager to learn but unworthy of touching the trout yet. The table should have been laid with crystal and candlelight and fresh flowers.

Work quickly now, time is growing short. Take a generous handful of flaked almonds and toss them into a pan. Whatever kind of pan, it's not important, the trout is cooking as we speak. Place the pan on a hot-plate, very hot. Toss them carefully, roll them over with a spoon. At first it will appear that nothing is happening, but all the while, the precious oil inside them is heating up and in a matter of seconds they will turn from white to gold and then ruined, charred black. The trick is to rescue them just as they turn to perfect gold.

Ah! But what is this? Your mouth is filled with saliva; you cannot help yourself. The aroma of the trout cooking is utterly irresistible. If you check your watch, you will observe that approximately 10 minutes have elapsed since you placed the trout in the oven. Everything has its own magical timing and now it is time to turn the trout. A plague on those who demur these sensuous signals and set kitchen timers!

Remove the dish from the oven and using an egglifter, gently pry the trout loose from the dish and turn them over. See how the flesh has changed from deep sunset peach to the dusty, pale pink of old roses. Splash more melted butter onto the trout. You should not have invited anyone from the Heart Foundation to dinner either. If you are using margarine, I will find out who you are and personally drag you out and shoot you.

Place the trout back in the oven. If this is your first attempt, you will have burnt the almonds by now. Quickly! Throw them out and do some more! You have less than five minutes before the trout is ruined!

As the almonds turn to gold, remove the pan from the heat and throw in a large lump of butter. The almonds will bubble and sizzle and the butter will smoke slightly. Add another lump of butter and stir while it melts away to golden sludge and then clear yellow liquid. Set it aside and remove the trout from the oven. Summon the diners to the table; tardiness cannot be tolerated.

Gently pry the trout loose from the dish with the egg lifter again. Take care not to damage their form, the cooked flesh breaks apart so easily. Arrange each fish on the plate so that the diner may appreciate its beauty and spoon a scatter of golden almonds along its length. Observe the eager faces of the diners ...and without further ado - serve.