It was another cold, though less snowy, week here in the Great White North. I’ve noticed the days getting longer with the sun coming up earlier and setting later every day. I finally believe that spring might be coming, though I suspect we won’t see the earth under its multi-foot layer of snow until after spring’s arrival.
The idea of a pot of fish soup was a welcome antidote to the chill in the air. I could get excited about an imaginary dinner on the French Riviera. I made a grocery list and went to pick up what I needed. I was envisioning a fragrant tomato broth with other Provençal flavors like fennel, orange peel, and saffron. I was also anticipating spoonfuls of fish chunks surrounded by this lovely broth, but wait… The path to dinner was much different than I expected.
It started at the fish counter. Wegman’s has come to town (the next town, actually). I’m trying hard to like it and haven’t given up yet, but each visit I leave feeling like it fell short. Their produce is a nightmare, and their precut fish has been a disappointment because it always looks hacked into the pieces for sale.
One thing I’ll give Wegman’s props for is the display of fresh whole fish on ice at the fish counter which I don’t see everywhere. I was in search of a whole red snapper, so chose to shop there again. They didn’t have red snapper, so I opted for two ocean perch. The fish guy scaled them for me, and offered to fillet or whatever else I wanted to the fish, but I thought I was cooking them whole so declined.
At home, I finally read the recipe through. I realized that after I cut off the heads, the fish needed to be cut into chunks. I guess I could have had the fish guy bone the fish for me. Oh well. I googled what to do and did it myself. It didn’t seem like I was supposed to add the bones to this soup, so I froze them for fish stock another time.
The remaining steps to make the soup were mostly easy and “the usual”. Vegetables are sautéed. The fish gets added. Liquid is supplied from chopped canned tomatoes and its juices plus water. Herbs, orange rind, saffron and Pernod (pastis, an anise liqueur) provide the seasonings as the soup simmers. The final surprise was the food mill. I was honestly confused by the concept of all of these ingredients being processed into a fishy puree. I did it, particularly because miscellaneous bones made their way into the pot, so this step made it easy to get rid of them, but it wasn’t what I expected.
I also had some issues making the rouille for topping toasts to accompany the fish soup. I make homemade mayonnaise a few times a year, starting with one whole egg, in my food processor. Because Dorie’s recipe uses just one yolk, I was worried that the volume would be too small for the food processor, so I used the blender. From experience, I knew it would splatter out the top, so I covered it with plastic wrap and poked a small hole in for drizzling the oil. I would swear I’d done this before, successfully, but this time, it didn’t work. My mayonnaise didn’t emulsify. I tried to fix it by slowly incorporating the failed mayo into a new egg yolk, but that didn’t work either. In the end, I dumped it and made a new batch using my old standby recipe which worked like a champ on the first try. As a nod to Dorie’s recipe, I used Dijon mustard instead of the dry mustard I usually use. (I’ve already made a few batches of croquants lately, so if anyone has suggestions for what to do with my egg whites, I’m looking for something new.)
In the end, I liked the flavors of the soup. Because of my original idea of what the soup would be like, the smooth texture threw me. I was OK with the broth having substance instead of being a clear broth, but I prefer fish chunks on my spoon instead of hiding in the soup. Upon rereading the recipe, I see that Dorie thinks the fine shreds of fish in each spoonful is more satisfying, for my taste, I disagree. If I make this again (which I might) I would cook everything except the fish chunks, puree that, and then cook the fish in the pureed soup.
Without a doubt, my favorite part was the toast with rouille on top. I could easily just eat the garnish without the soup. Fortunately, there’s still plenty left!
To see how the other Doristas fared in this last installment of “French Fridays” Fish Month, check out their links here. We don’t post the recipes for this group, but you can find it in Dorie Greenspan’s book Around My French Table.
I was seriously challenged by this week’s recipe for French Fridays with Dorie: Curried Chicken, Peppers, and Peas en Papillote. It’s not that I didn’t think I’d like it. It’s that, first of all, I have a kitchen overflowing with fresh produce from my farm share. This week we picked up 10 POUNDS of tomatoes, yes, that’s 10 pounds, and I’d just finished up last week’s 6 pounds. That’s in addition to 3 pounds of potatoes, another 10 cucumbers, another 7 items plus a slew of pick-your-own. Clearly, it’s the peak of the summer harvest season. And I won’t even mention the vegetables from last week that I haven’t quite used up… The second thing is that Howard isn’t wild about the flavor of curry. So, it was hard to get my head around making a dinner of chicken steamed in foil packets with peas (not in season fresh, and how can I buy frozen vegetables with all the fresh ones in the house?).
What to do? Well, I channeled my inner Cher and decided not to follow directions. I had a red onion and a red pepper on hand, so all set there. I liked the idea of the green peas, so I sliced up some cooked green beans into pea-sized slices for color. What else would go with those? I decided to add a handful of halved cherry tomatoes and some Kalamata olives. Given the landscape of these ingredients, I substituted crumbed herbes de Provence instead of curry powder. Et voila! I think I’ll call it chicken provençal en papillote.
I have 8 bell peppers that I plan to stuff tomorrow, so I made a double batch of this rice pilaf using pistachios and adding some diced red and purple peppers, using some of it as tonight’s side. The rice was quite moist, so it will make a good stuffing in addition to an excellent side.
We’ve made a few other recipes from AMFT en papillote. I always forget what a great technique this is. The only thing is that I think one big packet would be fine. I didn’t plan on presenting each diner with their own packet and ended up combining both packets into one bowl for serving. Even though I halved the recipe, we still had plenty of leftovers, so for us, the serving size in the recipe was on the large size.
If you make up the packet(s) in advance, as I did, dinner is a snap. Just remove the packets from the fridge and let them bake while you make the accompaniments. And now that I’ve successfully modified it, I hope to remember to use this method again and again.