julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

Floundering in the Kitchen? Go Fish!


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“A beautifully sauced fish can well be considered as a separate course and needs nothing but French bread and a good wine to go with it.” – Julia Child

This week, I decided to muster up my courage and give fish another try. When I went to the grocery store over the weekend, I had a heart-to-heart with the butcher. I pointed to the rainbow trout and asked, “Would this be considered a boneless, skinless piece of fish?” She looked at it and shook her head. “No, that’s still got the skin on it. Typically that’s how rainbow trout is cooked – with the skin on.” So then I asked, “If I needed a piece of fish that was boneless and skinless, could I get that and just skin it myself?” She thought for a moment, then shook her head again. “If I were you, I’d just buy a different kind of fish. That would be reeeally hard to skin yourself.” Ah HA!!! This confirmation made me feel so much better about my last les poissons attempt…and encouraged me to try something different this time. When it came down to it, we debated between cod and pollock – both seemed to be white fish, which is the only requirement Julia gives for these fish recipes. Ultimately, we went with the pollock, which neither one of us had ever tried before. Adventure time!

Last night I knocked out three of the recipes in MtAoFC:

Don't get 'em confused...

While none of the steps in this meal prep were difficult, there were a lot of little tasks to manage. I began with the fish, cutting it into four serving sizes (pollock must be one long fish! that one filet was really big) and seasoning it with salt and pepper. I sauteed sliced mushrooms in a pan then set them aside while I heated the fish in a buttered baking dish. I added the mushrooms on top, followed by white wine and water until the meat was barely covered. I brought it to a simmer, then covered it with wax paper and popped it into a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.

As the fish was cooking I turned my attention to the side dishes. I boiled some rice in a pot and sauteed diced mushrooms in a separate pan. Once the rice was light and fluffy, I stirred it gently into the pan with the mushrooms, added a little butter to mix in, and that was that. Easy!

Hand-shelling peas

The peas, on the other hand, were also easy – but much more time consuming. Julia requires that we buy peas in the pod and shell them. By hand. While this step was truly fascinating, as I’d never really taken a look at the inside of a pea pod before, it lost its appeal about ten peas into the process. All I’ll say is I have a new appreciation for canned vegetables, and would love the opportunity to introduce Julia to the time saving wonder that IS a canned vegetable. But as I signed on for this project willingly, I won’t complain about the minutia.

I added the peas to a pot of salted, boiling water, and toward the end of their cooking time I added about six small, boiled onions for flavor. For some reason, the pea pot (ooh, bad choice of words…sorry!) took a really long time to come to a boil, so I spent a lot of time waiting around for that to happen. Otherwise, this dish was majorly easy.

Fish and mushrooms

When the fish came out of the oven, I removed the wax paper to find that it was cooked to PERFECTION! I couldn’t believe how tender and moist the meat was, and how good the whole thing smelled. Here, I drained the juices into a saucepan, brought them to a boil and then, off the heat, I added in a paste of butter and flour as well as some cream. I brought the sauce back to a boil, then added spoonfuls of cream and lemon juice for flavoring. A little salt and pepper, and it was good to go.

The last step of the meal was to spoon the sauce over the fish, top with a little shredded Swiss cheese, and a few dots of butter. Then, I set the pan under the broiler in my oven (quick note: in my first apartment, I used the broiler all the time because my oven had a specific button labeled “broiler”; then they eventually replaced my oven with a newer model, and for the next year I couldn’t figure out how to get the broiler to work, so I’ve been broiler shy ever since. I’m happy to announce that last night, I discovered the oven in my house has a “broil” button, so it was really easy to master. Hooray!) and left it in for about 3 minutes, just long enough to melt the cheese and brown the sauce. When I brought the pan back out of the oven, it looked incredible.

One meal can never have too many mushrooms.

I spooned a helping of the rice onto a plate, which served as a bed for the fish. I spooned a little extra sauce on top, then added some peas to the plate. Done and done!! Time to give it a try! The rice was good – the mushrooms weren’t overpowering at all, and actually just added a hint of flavor. Nice! The peas were average – I think I liked Julia’s canned recipe better. But the fish! The fish really surprised me. The meat was thick and hearty, not thin and flaky like I’d expected. The sauce gave it an incredible flavor without jeopardizing the integrity of the well-cooked meat, and the filets didn’t taste fishy at all. I definitely give this recipe two thumbs way up – not only is it easy to make, it didn’t take long in the oven and the end result was delicious! (And this coming from someone who a month and a half ago wasn’t a big fan of fish.)

I still don’t know much about pollock, except that I like it. In fact, skin issue aside, I think I like it better than the trout. (But the trout is a really close second.) Have you ever tried it? You should! Especially when it’s poached in a yummy wine and mushroom sauce – doesn’t that make everything better?

Le fin.


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