Thursday, July 1, 2010

Frenchified Fish

As you would all be aware, I recently returned from a stint in Paris where I was lucky enough to not only indulge in some beautiful French food and produce, but to also attend cooking school there. I learned a lot in the process and today I would like to share a dish inspired by my time there that also uses a brilliant technique for cooking fish that is so simple - but yields the most superb results.

This cooking principle uses a bed of fresh herbs on which to cook the fish, so that it is not only cooked gently and away from a direct heat source (thus retaining all the moisture and flavour) but also giving the fish the most goregous fresh aroma and taste of the herbs at the same time. The method is fast and simple and I swear that once you try it, you will be as blown away by the result as I was! This is how fish is meant to taste. You could use whatever fish you wanted to, but don't choose fillets that are too thin or fragile. I used Jewfish (Mulloway) for my version today. In Paris we used large Bream fillets. Just choose what you like and what looks super fresh. I am keen to try this technique with salmon too - I think it would be beautiful. If any of you do try the salmon option, let me know how you go.

I chose to serve my fish with a rich and creamy gratin of fennel and cauliflower and a wedge of lemon. It would also be great with mash and asparagus, or even just a simple salad of endive for a lighter option. But however you serve it, I promise it will be the juiciest most delicious fish you've ever tasted. This cooking technique is that good.

French style baked Jewfish with fresh herbs
and fennel and cauliflower gratin

For the fish:
You will need: 1 piece of fish per person - use fish that is reasonably thick and not too delicate.
1 bunch each of continental parsley, tarragon and dill - plus salt, olive oil, lemon to serve.

First, line a shallow baking tray with foil or baking paper and preheat the oven to about 220C.

Take the fish fillets and ensure that there are no bones embedded in the flesh. If there are, remove them with tweezers (the cheffy term for this is called "pin boning") Cut them into individual portions if necessary and cut each piece across the skin in 3 places. Pat the fish dry with paper towels and set it aside.

Tear all the leaves off the herbs and discard any tough stalks. Chop the herbs roughly and combine well. Drizzle the baking tray with olive oil and then pile the herbs in a thick pile/layer straight onto the tray.

Rub the fish on both sides with olive oil and salt. Place skin side up onto the layer of herbs and drizzle with a little extra olive oil. Bake in the oven for 6 - 10 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. It should be super moist so be careful not to overcook it. Allow to sit for 2 minutes on the tray before serving (be sure to scoop up the fresh herbs with the fish so that these can also be enjoyed) Serve with a slice of lemon.

For the gratin:
You will need:
1 fennel bulb - green part removed and cut into thick slices, 1 small or half a large cauliflower cut into florets, 2 tablespoons salted butter, One and a half tablespoons plain flour, 3 cups milk, 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg,1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs, salt and pepper.

Place the cauliflower in a pot of salted water and cook until just soft enough to easily stick a knife through. Add the fennel and cook for about 2 minutes. Drain the cauliflower and fennel and place in an ovenproof dish. Set aside.

In a saucepan, melt the butter and when it starts to foam, add the plain flour. Stir it in well, to make a roux. I use a whisk for this - it means you can remove any lumps that might appear in the sauce quickly and easily. Let the roux cook for a minute or two (you want to cook the flour well, but be careful not to let it brown. If it does, start again!) Add half of the milk and whisk quickly and thoroughly. Keep whisking and gradually add the rest of the milk. Dont be insipid with your whisking - put your back into it - you don't want lumps!

Let the sauce cook for a few minutes, until it thickens to a custard like consistencey. Add salt, pepper and the nutmeg and cook for another minute. Pour over the cauliflower and fennel. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top and bake for about 30 minutes until the crust is golden. Let it rest out of the oven for 10 minutes before serving.


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