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

Schooled on Fish

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“I closed my eyes and inhaled the rising perfume. Then I lifted a forkful of fish to my mouth, took a bite, and chewed slowly. The flesh of the sole was delicate, with a light but distinct taste of the ocean that blended marvelously with the browned butter. I chewed slowly and swallowed. It was a morsel of perfection.” – Julia Child

Since my spontaneous and willing husband gave me a repreive from cooking the other night when he came to my rescue with a hamburger cookout in the backyard, I knew I had to step it up last night and cook the fish that was thawing in our fridge. Dinner was Filets de Poisson Gratines, a la Parisienne (fish filets poached in white wine with cream and egg yolk sauce) with Riz en Couronne (rice ring) and the leftover broccoli from the other night. The end result was a surprisingly hearty dish that looked really impressive and tasted great! Here’s how it went down:

Rice mixture

I started with the rice, because there were a couple of preliminary steps to get out of the way. I followed Julia’s recipe for Risotto Pilaf, heating raw rice in a pan of melted butter until it became transparent, then I poured in boiling water. I added an herb bouquet and some salt/pepper, then covered the pan and set it in the bottom third of a preheated oven (375 degreees). After about five minutes, I turned the heat down to 350 and let it cook for another 15 minutes. Meanwhile, the recipe says you can add a variety of vegetables to the rice before forming it in the ring, so I cooked some peas and sauteed some mushrooms to toss into the mix. When the rice was finished in the oven, I pulled it out and stirred in the peas and mushrooms, then turned it all into a buttered mold (basically a bundt pan) and lightly pressed it down into the form. I cut out a circle of wax paper (making a big X in the middle for the bundt pan hole) and covered the pan with it, then put a lid on top. I set the pan into a pot of boiling water and set it in the bottom third of the oven for about ten minutes.

Poached cod awaiting sauce

With the rice well underway, I started working on the fish. We had bought five big pieces of cod for this recipe, and it was perfect. I seasoned the filets with salt/pepper and set them in a buttered pan on the stove, adding a mixture of vermouth and water. I brought the fish to a simmer, then covered the pan with buttered wax paper. When the rice came out of the oven, I replaced it with the pan of fish and let it cook for about 12 minutes (this is called “poaching”). I knew the fish was cooked when the meat began to fall apart in the pan (don’t overcook! There’s nothing worse than dried out, flaky fish). I drained the liquid from the pan into a separate smaller sauce pan, and at this point I noticed some tiny bones sticking out of some of the filets. I took care to pull out the little slivers I could see, but knew there would be more – so a word of caution, eat fish carefully. Those little bones are sneaky suckers! I set the fish in the pan aside while I brought the juices to a boil. In another sauce pan, I melted butter and flour into a roux, stirring with a wooden spoon, and turned off the heat so I could add the boiling juices and some cold milk. I brought the mixture back up to a boil and stirred it, watching it thicken and turn into a creamy, velvety sauce.

The broiler has turned the fish/sauce a beautiful golden brown!

In a mixing bowl, I blended egg yolks and whipping cream and slowly added the sauce with a wire whisk. I poured the sauce back into the pan on the stove and brought it to a boil, then poured it over the fish. I sprinkled a couple tablespoons of shredded Swiss cheese over the sauce and added a few dots of butter, then brought it to a simmer on the stove. Finally, I put the pan under the broiler for a few minutes to brown the cheese and sauce.

Will you wear my ring?

The final product looked amazing! I used a spatula to serve filets and sauce onto plates, then covered the rice ring mold with a large platter and inverted it, leaving a perfect ring of rice, peas and mushrooms on the plate. I sliced a piece with a serving spoon and added it alongside the fish, finishing the plate with a helping of leftover reheated broccoli.

The rice ring was good – however, there was a weird smoky flavor that I didn’t like but couldn’t quite identify. I think it may have been some of the butter from the pan that had overcooked, but can’t be sure. Either way, I’d rather just have steamed rice as a side (although I did like the addition of the peas and mushrooms – not only did it add some nice color to the rice, but it gave the side some texture interest as well).

Voila! Fish, broccoli and rice ring

The fish, however, was fantastic. The creamy sauce was delicious, and the meat was tender and light, cooked perfectly and well seasoned. I am continually amazed by Julia’s fish recipes, each one teaching me that fish really can be a tasty treat. (Just be sure to watch out for those little bones…I got quite a few in my filet.)

When it comes to cooking, it’s easy to get bored with the same old routines. How many different ways can you possibly cook a chicken breast? But in following the recipes from MTAOFC, it’s eye opening to realize how a different sauce or a few small ingredients can really make a big difference.

This meal was terrific, and we have enough leftovers for another meal tomorrow, on the off chance we get iced in (I can’t believe it – we’re being hit with another arctic blast!). Good thing I’ve got a hearty vegetable soup on the docket for this week – that’ll be a nice meal to warm ourselves as we sit by the fire. Hope you’re keeping warm, wherever you are!

Happy cooking!
– Jessica

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