Saturday, September 10, 2011

Filets de Sole Parisienne, Gratines

French Provencal Cooking - Time Life Cookbooks

Flashback! When I saw petrale sole at the market, I was inspired to reprise a recipe from a vintage cookbook circa 1968 - "The Cooking of Provincial France" one of the Time-Life "Foods of the World." (Yes, I am that old.)

Fresh fish. Eggs. Butter. Cream. White wine. Gruyere. How could it be bad? Well, my arteries shuddered a bit, but it was a nice change of pace. More, the classical French preparation gave us a chance to reminisce about dining experiences in the good old days when I first moved to Chicago and Stuart lived in New Orleans.

Dining out was all about rich, fat, heavy and showmanship - Steak TartareCaeser Salad were made at tableside. Escargots Bourgogne preceded a robust Chateaubriand for two. A feathery light lemon souffle and Courvoisier capped off the meal.

Thank God for the introduction of Nouvelle Cuisine in the 80's.

These days, I usually grill fish and prefer fresh, natural, organic, local, sustainable foods. This offers the joys of ease, simplicity and good health. But poaching fish avoids the fire hazard of an open grill and revisiting the special repasts we enjoyed long ago, far away, once upon a time was a fun way to spend Friday evening.

Here's my blast from the past!

Filets de Soles a la Parisienne, Gratines 
(Fillets of Sole with White Wine Sauce) 

The Fish

3/4 cups dry white wine
3 small sliced shallots
3 pounds gray, lemon or petrale sole fillets, skinned and cut into serving pieces all the same size
Freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a shallow, flameproof baking-and-serving dish large enough to hold the fillets in one layer.

2. Sprinkle the shallots over the bottom of the dish. Lay the fillets over them, side by side, folding any  fillets in half that are thinner than 1/4 inch. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Pour wine and sufficient water to almost the top of the fish. Bring to a slow simmer on top of the stove.

4. Cover the dish with a sheet of buttered wax paper. Poach on the middle shelf of the oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until the fish is just firm to touch.

5. Remove the baking dish from the oven. With a bulb baster, draw up all the liquid from the baking dish and strain into a 1-1/2 to 2-quart enameled or stainless-steel saucepan. Recover the fish with wax paper and set aside. Raise oven temperature to 425 degrees. Boil the poaching liquid over high heat until it has reduced to one cup.

Sauce Parisienne

4 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup milk
2 egg yolks
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons lemon juice
White pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons grated Gruyere cheese
2 tablespoons butter, cut into tiny pieces


1. In a 2 to 3 quart enameled or stainless-steel saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. When the foam subsides, lift the pan from the heat and stir in the flour. Return to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, for a minute or two. Do not let this roux brown.

2. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour in the reduced poaching liquid (the remaining court bouillon) and the milk, whisking constantly. Then return to hight heat and cook, stirring the sauce with a whisk. When it thickens and comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and let it simmer slowly for 1 minute.

3. Mix the egg yolks and 1/4 cup of cream together in a small bowl; stir into it 2 tablespoons of the hot sauce. Add 2 more tablespoons of the hot sauce, then whisk the now-heated egg yolk-and-cream mixture back into the remaining sauce in the pan.

4. Over medium heat bring the sauce to a boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and season with lemon juice, salt and pepper. The sauce should coat the whisk lightly; if it is too thick, thin it with more cream.

5. Draw up any juices that have accumulated around the fish. Spread sauce under the fillets, lifting them gently with a spatula. Mask the tops with the remaining sauce.

6. Top the fish with the remaining sauce, sprinkle on the gruyere cheese, dot with butter.

7. Bake in the top third of the oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until the sauce begins to bubble, then broil for 30 seconds to brown the top if desired. Serve at once.

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