My mother, although multi-talented, had an aversion to the kitchen and has often said that I learned to cook at an early age “out of self-defense.” When she made chicken à l'orange by smearing a chicken with powdered Tang, I quickly developed a necessary passion for creating tasty things to eat. Somewhere in the family photograph album is a picture of me at the stove, age ten, happily stirring marinara sauce.

I developed a lifelong fascination with food; good food. There was even a foray of working as a chef’s assistant at a French restaurant during my mid twenties, just for fun. I had always loved watching Julia Child and knew that Mastering the Art of French Cooking was to be revered. It wasn’t until I read her biography (long before the Julie & Julia movie) that I really became fascinated with her work. From that book, I decided to prepare her recipe for mayonnaise.

Upon tasting it, I wept. . . .

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Filets de Poisson Gratinés, á la Parisienne

Fish Filets Poached in White Wine; Cream and Egg Yolk Sauce.

Other than Julia's lobster Thermidor, this was the only other fish dish of hers I'd ever prepared. I was initially intrigued at the idea of making a good fish stock which became a rather elusive endeavor when I realized I had no access to fresh fish remains. A trip to a nearby Whole Foods Market and sweet-talking their fishmonger solved the problem. I was supplied with lovely, meaty red snapper frames at no cost.

The fish frames were simmered for an hour or so with the ubiquitous carrot, parsley, just a suspicion of tarragon, then strained, reduced and refrigerated. The next day, voila! I was presented with a thick, fragrant, very gelatinous fumé de poisson -- fish stock.

Time to put it to work. . . .

Since this was my first foray into the fish section of Mastering, why not begin with a recipe that has á la Parisienne in the title? The sauce being made from reduced fish stock, white wine, egg yolks and cream really did sound like the epitome of what one would encounter in Paris.

I selected Dover sole filets for this endeavor. They have a great reputation and I figured that any sole swimming around Dover surely encountered French waters as well. They were poached in shallots, butter, my glorious fumé, and a splorsh of white wine. (A "splorsh" is a precise, technical measurement and I'm sure you know exactly how much a splorsh is.)

Their poaching liquid was reduced to a cup. Butter and flour were mixed together in another sauce pan to which milk was added along with the reduced poaching liquid. That was then slowly added to egg yolks and cream, heated through and finished with a touch of lemon juice.

For the garnish, fresh mussels were steamed in minced shallots, white wine and butter.

The filets were sauced and were to be placed under the broiler with grated Swiss cheese which I neglected to buy. Parmesan became the substitute.

But here, you have it: Filets de Poisson Gratinés, á la Parisienne.

Again, like so many French sauces, the flavor of the delicate fish was not covered by the rich sauce, only enhanced by it. And again, Julia's recipe turned out to be the most delectable means of preparing fish.

Frankly, I would have used more white wine in the poaching liquid and just a splorsh of fish stock -- I think that would have given the sauce even more complexity. (I'm sure it would be fine. Julia gave several combinations for poaching liquids, one of which was mainly water. You could practically hear her end up saying, "Oh, use whatever you like.")

The big surprise, to me anyway, were the mussels which were only to be a garnish. Having been steamed in shallots, butter, and white wine, they were the best mussels I've ever eaten especially with the sauce on them. I'm glad I bought a pound of them, for I ate them all.

Since I have plenty of my wonderful fish stock stocked in the freezer, my next dish will definitely be Sole á la Dieppoise -- Fish Filets with Mussels and Shrimp. The sauce for it is finished with -- are you ready for this? -- 8 to 16 tablespoons of butter. Obviously, it's one of those classic French sauces that incorporates as much butter as the laws of chemistry will allow.

Must begin fasting now.

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