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

Heart and Sole

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“Last night, by the way, we had Filets de Poisson a la Bretonne, or Fish filets in White Wine and a Julienne of Vegetables. Compared to most of this week, it was a cakewalk. I’ve begun to get used to the persnickityness of French cooking — the pureeing and the many pots. It’s something in the way Julia writes I suppose — even when she’s asking me to press garlic cloves through a fine-mesh sieve, I don’t resent her.” – Julie Powell

My freshman year in college, I minored in Music (which only lasted one year, by the way. Music Theory ate my lunch.) and one of my required classes was Ear Training. My first semester I had this crazy hippie lady for a professor who, as it turned out, had a drinking problem and was asked to not return the following semester. But I digress. One of the things we learned in this class was a technique called “solfege”, which is the teaching of sight-singing where each note gets a syllable (do a deer, and all that). But when this lady first said the word “solfege”, she didn’t stop to explain it – so for the first two weeks of this lesson, we all thought she was saying “sole fish”. I know, it didn’t make sense to us either. We finally had to ask her to write it on the board, and we all had a good laugh. (Of course nobody was laughing the second semester when we showed up for class to find a note on the door telling us our professor would not be returning and we would be joining other classes – who, we found out the hard way, were way ahead of what we had been learning. And so my solid A plummeted to a pitiful C and thus ended my Music minor experience. I’m not bitter.)

All of this to say: as I was cooking last night’s dinner, Filets de Poisson a la Bretonne (sole fish poached in white wine and a julienne of vegetables), I suddenly remembered the whole solfege experience and 1.) thought to myself, “Finally! I get to see what the real sole fish is like!” and 2.) wondered whatever happened to crazy drunken professor lady. Because despite her multiple absences and the faint smell of booze on her breath that wafted our way as we sat next to her on the piano bench, she was a nice person and had a great smile. That and 50 cents will get you a can of Coke from the soda machine.

Sole Fish

So sole fish! This is the fish that Julia recommends using for these fish recipes, and this was the first time we had found it in our store. (Maybe it’s a seasonal thing?) It comes in very small, thin filets, and I noticed right away that several of the pieces still had little bits of bone inside (I put those pieces back in the freezer to deal with at a later date). I prepared it just as I’ve done for the past few fish recipes – poach it in a pan with scallions (the white bulbs this time!) and white wine, dotted with butter. This time I added some sauteed sliced mushrooms and thinly sliced carrot, celery and leeks (there’s a helpful drawing with explanation on how to properly julienne vegetables on page 28 of The Book). I cooked the vegetables in a covered pan with some butter for about 20 minutes, then set them on top of the fish, covered the pan with buttered wax paper and put in the oven for about 12 minutes.

Our side dish was steamed broccoli with Sauce Mousseline (Hollandaise with whipped cream). The broccoli was easy – I followed Julia’s suggestion and left about an inch of stem, cut on the bias, and steamed them in a pot. The sauce was almost as easy – Julia offers a shortcut, which is to make it in a blender. Sadly, our blender bit the dust long before we ever moved into our house nearly a year ago, so I used the next best thing…my Magic Bullet. BACK STORY: When I first met Ben, I was living on my own and had fallen in love with the infomercial featuring this mini blender. Of course, it was way too expensive, but I still thought it was amazing – just look at all the things one machine could do!! So for Christmas that year, what did I get? Oh yes. My very own Magic Bullet. I was ecstatic! And then proceeded to only use it a handful of times. I’ve gotten quite a bit of flack about this situation from said gift-giver, so whenever I get a chance to use the MB, I always like to point it out to him. So ya hear that, honey?? Julia let me use the Magic Bullet!! And there was great rejoicing.

Pay no attention to my weird wrinkly hand or the mushroom underneath my nail.

So into the Bullet I put some egg yolks, salt, pepper and lemon juice. I blended until foamy, then melted some butter on the stove. I used a wooden spoon to strain the liquified butter from the pan (leaving the foam behind) into the Bullet and continued blending. Lastly, I hand-whipped some cream in a bowl until it too was foamy, then folded it into the Hollandaise sauce. I set this aside until I was ready to serve the meal.

When the fish was done cooking, I took the pan out of the oven and drained all the juices into a sauce pan. Once it was boiling, I took it off the heat and added a paste of flour and butter, which thickened the sauce immediately, and also some cream. Back on the heat, the sauce was actually a little too thick, so I added some more drops of cream until it was the consistency I wanted. I seasoned it with salt, pepper and a little lemon juice. Done!

I heated up some leftover rice we had made with our veal, and spooned some onto a plate. I used a spatula to serve the fish and vegetables over the rice, then spooned the cream sauce over that. It smelled great! A few broccoli florets and a light drizzling of the Hollandaise sauce, and we were ready to eat! (To aid in the removal of leftovers from the fridge, I also served a fresh salad with Italian dressing, also left over from our neighbor dinner party on Friday.) This looked like a great meal!

The sole fish was good, but different than the trout we usually use. It seemed a little drier and flakier than we were used to, but the meat was definitely cooked just right. Very tender and flavorful. I really liked the slight crunchiness of the julienne vegetables with the soft creaminess of the wine sauce. The addition of the rice gave the main course lots of texture, and all the flavors worked well together. I have to say, however, that despite how good Julia’s fish recipes are, I think I’m kind of done with the fish for awhile. I definitely like these dishes more than I ever thought I would, but I’m still not a huge fan of fish. I’d much rather have a steak or beef patty any day.

Looks as good as it tastes!

The broccoli with sauce was great – the Hollandaise was super light and added a slight flavor to the vegetables rather than drowning the freshness of the steamed broccoli. I probably could have divided the recipe even more than I did, because we still had quite a bit leftover. Julia also says this sauce would be good served over asparagus. I’ll have to try that next.

All in all, this was a great dinner. Despite the fact that everything on our plate had a sauce drizzled over it, nothing felt very heavy. I have to say that while I’m glad I tried the sole fish, I think I still like the trout better. What about you? What’s your favorite (or least favorite) fish?

Tonight I’m finally making a beef casserole that I’ve had to keep postponing due to scheduling conflicts. Ben is off to the Rangers game with his brother this evening, but the casserole will still be here when he gets home. Tune in tomorrow for a full review.

Bon appetit!
– Jessica (mi a name I call myself)

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3 Responses to “Heart and Sole”

  1. Mary says:

    Hey–I just saw a tip yesterday that will help with all those little bones in the fish–lay the fish across the backside of an upside down bowl–the bend will cause all those little bones to just pop right up so you can see them and pull them out!

  2. Rachel Hartgrove says:

    I am learning more about you through this cooking blog than through FB! So sorry you had that experience with your Music Theory class…I KNOW you would have done well had you had a different experience. (:

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