Fish Week: Salmon, Sea Bream, Lemon Sole, Hake and Trout
This blog, a portal of Shmii’s ramblings about life and cooking as she sees it, has garnered a lot of interest as of late and it’s about time the non-obligatory disclaimer was pulled out:
This blog is based on actual events. In certain cases incidents, characters and timelines have been changed for dramatic purposes. Certain characters may be composites, or entirely fictitious.
This week the blog’s hit count has quadrupled (I’m pretty sure I don’t even know as many people). So I’d like to make a humble request: If you’re here and reading/skimming/studying my drivel, please don’t hesitate to comment. Comments make my world go round and keep me up at night in a good way. Comments are the bee’s knees.
Here’s how I’ve been struggling all throughout fish week.
Darne de Saumon Grillée avec Sauce Bearnaise
I hate cooked salmon. I hate the oily fish smell. I hate the pale, pasty pink look. I hate the taste. When so delicious raw, why cook it and ruin it?
Apparently the salmon was cooked well but neither the chef nor I tasted it (strangely enough, we share a lot of “hate” foods together – salmon and rhubarb for example), and the bearnaise sauce was well-seasoned (score!) despite being a tad heavy on the garnish.
2 salmon darnes
200g clarified butter
Bunch of tarragon, ciseler
2 shallots, ciseler
1 cup dry white wine
3 egg yolks
1 tsp vinegar
1 bunch chervil, hache
1. Marinate salmon in lemon slices and olive oil. Season and grill salmon till cooked (or finish cooking in the oven for 4-5 minutes after grilling for a few minutes to get those pretty grill marks).
2. Reduce the wine with the shallots and 2/3 of the tarragon with a dash of vinegar. Once reduced whisk in the 3 egg yolks quickly over low heat (be careful of scrambling!). Pour in the clarified butter slowly and whisk swiftly till a saucey consistency. Serve fish with sauce alongside.
Dorade Grillée, Compote de Fenouil, Beurre Anchois
Delicious Dorade, known as Sea Bream in English. The fish was fresh with bright sparkly eyes, and grilled whole. It was very pretty and tasted sweet and fresh. The fennel was very easy to make as well: marinated in olive oil and salt, vacuum packed in oven-proof bag, shoved in the oven for 45 minutes, sliced and heated on the stove. I wonder if I can use the old hoover in the attic to help vacuum pack some fennel at home…
My French tutor thinks it’s rather funny that a culinary student dislikes so much of food stuff. But I’m a fairly recent non-vegetarian convert and am still finding it hard to appreciate anything a bit more high-brow than hot dogs and fried chicken. Anchovies are still on my hate list and I am going to make no effort to acquire a taste for it. The anchovy butter was made by blending whole anchovies with garlic and mixed in with butter. Simple for everyone, delightful for anchovy lovers.
2 whole cleaned sea breams, scored skin
2 whole fennels
1 garlic clove
1. Halve fennels. Marinate in lemon juice, olive oil, salt and white pepper. Poach in the oven for 40 minutes at 90C.
2. Blend anchovies and garlic together with some lemon juice and pepper. Mix with softened butter. Roll into a sausage, wrap in cling film, chill.
3. Stuff the sea breams with fennel seeds and herb. Marinate in lemon slices and olive oil. Season. Grill for 20 seconds on each side at 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock to get fancy grill marks. Finish to cook in the oven for 8 minutes at 180C.
4. Slice the fennels and the anchovy butter to serve with the sea bream.
Filet de Limande Bonne Femme
Do not store fish in water. Not even a smidgen of water. When rinsing the fish, do obsessively pat it dry with towels and store it otherwise it will stink up everything within a 1 mile radius, and the stench will permeate your very core. I was very near hurling when filleting the lemon soles that had been rinsed and stored in plastic trays without being dried adequately. The gut was swollen, wobbly and stank to high heavens because it had started digesting itself and ruining the surrounding meat. After some nifty knife-work I salvaged some clean filets, poached them and hesitated tasting knowing how bad they had smelt. Luckily the fish was relatively fresh (by the time it gets to us from being on the boat and in Rungis it’s about a week) which did a lot more for the flavour than the rotting gut did.
8 lemon sole filets, de-skinned
8 mushrooms, emincer
4 shallots, ciseler
1 litre fish stock
1. Place sole filet in cling film and wrap. Bash lightly with a cleaver to flatten each filet this way. Season lightly with salt and white pepper. Fold over the tail end first and then overlap with the thicker end to make little sole packets. Season lightly again.
2. Butter a large, round, flat saucepan. Spread shallots over the pan, layer mushrooms over and then the parsley. Lay fish rolls over gently. Pour in some stock till almost covering fish, cover with parchment paper and cook over the stove till simmering. Finish to cook in the oven for 3 minutes in the oven at 180C. Use spatula to remove filets and reserve.
3. Strain garnish from the cooking liquid and reserve. Reduce stock to demi-glace and add in 1/2 cup cream. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Season. Monter au beurre the sauce with 1/2 cup butter and add a dash of lemon juice.
4. To plate, place some of the garnish. Place fish on garnish. Ladle sauce over and place under the grill/salamander until the top is lightly coloured.
Pavé de Lieu Dugléré
The preparation was very similar to the lemon sole. We poached the fish in the same manner: buttered pan, layered garnish, fish plonked on, wine and stock poured over, poached on stove top, shoved in oven to finish. Poached fish can be tasty and healthy unless of course you splash over a sauce that’s been monter au beurre-ed. And since I haven’t enrolled into a French Culinary school to harp on about health I will just be happy with it being tasty.
4 hake/cod filets or pave
3 shallots, ciseler
1/2 onion, ciseler
5 tomatoes, de-skinned and de-seeded
1 litre fish stock
1. Season filets. Butter large, round, flat pan and sprinkle shallots and onions, then tomatoes and then the parsley. Lay the filets on parsley. Cover with parchment paper. Cook over the stove till simmering and finish to cook in the oven for 8 minutes at 180C. Remove filets with spatula and reserve.
2. Reduce the cooking liquid with the garnish left in. Monter au beurre with 1/2 cup butter. Season.
3. Serve fish with sauce ladled over.
Pavé de Lieu Roti sur Peau, Pommes Puree, Sauce Americaine
Once upon a time during my analyst years I did not quite figure out why my associate thought I needed to accompany him on pitch book drop-off at the Big Boss’ home to prepare me for the drop. How hard is it to dictate to the taxi driver, “7 Ennismore Gardens Mews”?
So when I was given the grand task to drop some super-secret and confidential pitch books off at the Big Boss’ home at 3am I got into my cab and snoozed all the way to Ennismore. Someone in London Civil Planning got lazy. Why is there an Ennismore Gardens, Ennismore Mews, and Ennismore Gardens Mews? If we are running out of creativity why not start doing silly names like Hobbit Hole’s Way, Cricket Crook Passage? If I was in charge of street naming I could come up with much more fun names, and it would’ve saved me the embarassment of looking around for Ennismore Gardens Mews till the crack of dawn and dropping off at the wrong door at Ennismore Mews.
Today was much more catastrophic in relation. We had a mock assessment surprise thrown at us and it was daunting. Chef was walking around with a chart and it seemed like every time I looked over at him with my eyes full of hopelessness he was scribbling away hastily.
I took three hours to make some mashed potatoes badly, roast four filets badly, and make a sauce americaine badly. Usually I would’ve had Chef on my back to speed up or not butcher something. I found it too embarrassing to ask how I should be making mashed potatoes (that’s right, I don’t know how!) and added in hunks upon hunks of butter in the hope they’d magically turn creamy. They turned greasy. Not only did the mash turn out abominable, my filets were undercooked and my sauce was clumpy because I reduced it till a thick skin formed on the top. I tried removing said skin, and instead broke it down into bits floating around in the sauce. Oh, and I also under-cooked the fish. Utter disaster. When it came to plating, my oily mash was misbehaving and my sauce looked terrible. If this is any reflection on what my final holds, I have a long way to go…At least, as a consolation prize, I got the seasoning right. Also, something worth noting was that I didn’t think twice about killing the crabs straight in the pan. They are vicious creatures and very tasty.
Truite Farci Mousse Poisson, Sauce Vin Blanc
I was put on de-gutting duty with the trout, all forty of them. So we formed a production line where one person trimmed and scaled and the other two got their hands bloodied in guts. Disgusting. The things didn’t smell as bad as the lemon sole earlier in the week but the guts were flacid and jiggly. I did enjoy pulling out bright orange eggs and wondered if they were edible having stopped myself short from trying.
Fish mousse sounds bad. We shoved a kilo of hake into a blender with cream and egg whites and passed it through a fine seive. It had a moussey texture but I’m not too fussed about blended fish.
Once the mousse was done, we piped some of it out between two trout filets and rolled them up in cling film. I hate cooking with cling film. It’s flimsy and it’s a derivative of plastic in some shape or form. It doesn;t strike me as a particularly traditional cooking method. What did the kids back in the 1800’s do when it came to poaching?
Once poached and the sauce was on the go, we had to unwrap and de-skin the rolls. I’ve had a problem with my thumb recently; it keeps clicking, sometimes painfully, sometimes not so much. With this clicky thumb issue it was rather cumbersome to pull off the skin without breaking the flesh. But I managed by pulling off massive chunks of skin at once rather than prodding and pinching the flesh and skin numerous times (besides the longer I take, the colder the fish gets and re-heating it for longer would over-cook the fish). Chef says I’m a better fish boiler than griller, veiled compliment or criticism? I wonder.
8 trout filets
6 mushrooms, finely sliced
6 shallots, ciseler
Dry white wine
1.5L fish stock
1 cup cream
1 cup creme fraiche
20g egg white
Salt and pepper
1. For the fish mousse, blend the cod, 100g cream, 20g egg white, salt and pepper for taste together till light and airy. Make sure not to over heat the mixture in the blender. Pass through a seive. Reserve.
2. Pour 2 cups of white wine into a pot with half the chopped shallots and reduce over a low heat.
3. Season the trout filets with salt and white pepper. Lay one filet on cling film, pipe fish mousse over and lay another filet over (making sure tail sides are opposite to each other to keep size uniform when rolled). Roll tightly and tie the ends with string. Reserve.
4. Bring the stock to a boil with the mushrooms and remaining shallots. Bring down to a simmer for 5 minutes and add the white wine-shallot reduction. Cook for another 15 minutes, strain, and bring back to a simmer. Reduce till a thicker consistency is reached. Add half the cream. Reduce.
5. Poach the trout rolls for 10 minutes at 85C in a steam oven.
6. Once the sauce is thicker, add the remaining cream and reduce. Add the creme fraiche, test seasoning and reserve.
7. After 10 minutes, pull out the trout rolls, unwrap and carefully de-skin.
8. Pour over sauce. Serve.