Field Report:
Adventures of a Culinary Padawan
École des Techniques à la Cuisine
Lesson Seventeen: Fish II


Dear Foodie Voyeur,

We did fish last time, and it was cooked via poaching -- first in a sauce Bonne Femme (or good wife), then en Papillote, steamed in paper. This week, we will cut trout, that classic fresh water fish, and another flat fish. Cooking will be done in fat -- the trout with be dredged in flour and pan-fried (Poisson Meunière, which translates literally to "miller's wife"), then topped with a chunky Sauce Grenobloise, and the flounder will be cut to make Goujonettes -- the original fish fingers!

The only difference in cutting the trout from other round fish was that we didn't bother to scale it. Though we'd be cooking and serving it with the skin on, the scales are tiny and will melt quickly on cooking in hot fat. If anything, it will add to the crispiness of the fish.

Cooking in fat can be rich, but yummy ... the sauce for the trout is a classic beurre noisette or brown butter sauce, in which whole butter is cooked in a pan till the milk solids go brown, and finished with lemon juice and parsley. A Grenobloise is similar, with the addition of capers, fried croûtons, and lemon suprêmes are added at the end before the sauce is poured over the pan-fried fish.

The fillet has to be dried and seasoned, then dredged/patted with flour. Some fish benefit from a short soak in milk before flouring, but in general, this is the general procedure for fish prepared meunière:
  1. Dry, season, flour the fillets.
  2. Cook in a mixture of clarified butter, panfrying the presentation side down first (for the trout, this means the skin side)
  3. The heat should be low, especially for larger fish pieces. For smaller, thinner pieces, a high, quick heat is okay.
  4. When the fish is done on side one, flip over on side two. In some cases, you can turn off the heat to finish cooking the fish.
  5. Wipe out the pan and make the brown butter -- heat whole butter in a pan till browned, but not burned.
  6. Add other parts of the sauce quickly, then pour or spoon over the fish
For the sauce, the croutons are cut tiny -- cut sliced white bread into ¼" cubes and crisp up and brown in clarified butter. Cut the lemon supremes -- peler a vif, then with a paring knife, cut out the lemon flesh, leaving the membranes behind. If desired, squeeze the juice of of the lemon remainders before discarding. If desired, chop the suprêmes into half or quarters.

The lemon pieces cut through the fat of the butter, and with the capers gives a good sourness or tartness to the fish. Trout is a relatively bland fish, and this sauce makes it much more interesting. If you want to use the grenobloise on an oilier fish, then add in the lemon juice or add more tart components.

By the way, noisette means "nut" or "hazlenut" and refers not only to the brown color of the butter, but also to the nut-like flavor and aroma that develops when whole butter is browned.

The flounder is filleted and skinned as we did for the sole last week, and then cut into finger-sized pieces (no larger than half and inch wide and two or three inches long, no bigger!). It's prepared for deep frying panir à l'anglaise -- dredged in flour and "rolled" between the hands to make a long, elegant looking, twisted or curled piece of fish. It's then dipped in an eggwash consisting of eggs, oil and salt (to change some of the chemical properties and viscosity), then at the last in very fine, dry breadcrumbs.

The "rolling" is a bit hard to explain, but here goes: after flouring the fish, put the fish between the palms of your hand, perpendicular to the direction of your fingers. With medium pressure, roll the piece between your palms, in one direction only. The fish will compact and twist a little, making for a neater, rounded-edge piece. If the piece is thin, it will even roll into a tube, very neat!

The breaded pieces can be deep fried in 350°F oil till lightly browned, then drained on paper towels. They can also be shallow-fried in oil or duck fat. It takes about 30 seconds per side, so don't lose track or overcook the pieces!

The fish pieces can be eaten as cocktail-style finger food, thus shouldn't be too large or they will break on the trip between dipping sauce and mouth. What sorts of sauce? The two we prepared were Suace Tartare which is a mayonnaise with additional mustard and chopped herbs and cornichons; and Sauce au Poivrons Rouge -- sweet red pepper sauce. Peppers are cut emincer and sweated in olive oil and water under a parchment lid with some garlic. When soft, the peppers are blended to purée. If desired, warm double cream can be added to modify the flavor, but we liked the red pepper taste, so just added salt and pepper to taste.

Wasn't that easy? Essentially, this class built on previous ones, and there should have been nothing new to anyone here, except for the recipes themselves. But guess how many people were totally lost anyway?

We did run out of time to deal with the goujonettes simply because breading takes so long for so many tiny pieces of fish. The Jedi Master opted to demonstrate the mousseline since it's time-consuming and a LOT of effort. Basically, a fine puré is made in a food processor or with successive passes through a meat grinder, then pressed through a tami to rid it of any fibers or bones, the refrigerated till very cold. This can be done with any meat, but is best with white fish or chicken.

Keeping the mousse very cold (work over an ice bath, if necessary), beat in egg whites and cream till a light fluffy texture, then season. Make quenelles which are dumpling-like ovoid balls. You make them by passing them between two spoons. The end result is like a three-sided football. Poach these in a court bouillion or "short broth" -- be sure it's carefully seasoned. If it's oversaled, the quenelles with be oversalted. She served it with the red pepper sauce.

I took all the leftovers home, and well covered and cold, it all kept for over a week. That's pretty good!

With Love,
Susu, the Culinary Padawan

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