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Dinner Report - Fantastic Fish Recipe

We celebrated our anniversary with a dinner at home:

New Potatoes with Caviar
Sea Trout in Champagne Sauce with Saffron Rice and Haricots Verts
Pear and Endive Salad with Bleu d'Auvergne and Toasted Hazelnuts
Iles Flottantes

The inspiration for the meal was a bottle of Dom Perignon from my mother in law, and I wanted to find dishes that would work well and not overwhelm it.

The first two recipes were from Hopkinson's Week In, Week Out. The potatoes were to be the tiniest new potatoes - boiled and "scraped", not peeled. Well, these were not the newest of potatoes, nor the tiniest. Scraping was difficult so I resorted to peeling, but I can see the benefits of scraping - the potatoes keep their pretty round shape, and less of the potato is removed. Since mine were larger, I cut them in half and scooped out the middle a little, and also sliced a little of the bottom of each piece so they would sit on the plate. (I initially tried putting them on a bed of salt but, as I should have realized, a layer of salt adhered to the potato!) Before adding the caviar (American) I brushed the inside of each potato with melted butter, and then put v. finely chopped chives on top - a tasty and pretty touch.

The fish - ah the fish - what a wonderful dish. I was able to find a 2 lb sea trout (which I was pleased to see is an inexpensive fish - about $5 a lb), and had it beheaded and cleaned. You then butter a roasting pan (I used my oval cazuela) with a nice knob of soft butter, add a layer of chopped shallots, rub the fish with another knob of butter, season with salt and pepper, add thyme sprigs and bay leaves to the dish (no quantities given - I used 2 bay leaves and probably 6-7 sprigs) and half a bottle of champagne or white wine. I had bought a bottle of cava for this purpose. It then gets cooked covered in the oven for about 40 minutes, turning the fish once, then 15 minutes covered out of the oven. You then remove the skin and filet the fish (I wasn't so good at that) and put all the skin, bones, liquid etc. in a sauce pan and reduce until almost all the liquid is gone. Then add cream (250 ml or so) and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Strain and return to clean pan. Meanwhile I put the fish back in the clean cazuela and covered w/ Saran wrap so it wouldn't dry out. I reheated the fish briefly in the oven (said to put a couple of minutes under the broiler) and served with the sauce. That sauce was incredible - so very flavorful. He says this dish is typically served with fleurons, and to do so if you are one who enjoys that kind of thing. I had some leftover puff pastry in the freezer, so I made them, though uncrimped, and I must not have made the knife marks deep enough, because they puffed up an awful lot - I just sliced them in half. I think this dish could also be made somewhat ahead of time, reheating the sauce and fish before serving - the fish was very moist.

When I did a little research in JC, my sense was that this kind of dish is usually served alone, but I wanted to have things with it, and Gio kindly got me on my way. I made a saffron rice pilaf from epicurious.com, but forgot the almonds, and haricots verts that I blanched in the potato water for a couple of minutes, then sauted in butter and seasoned. Both worked nicely with the fish.

For the salad, I'd read that mild blues go nicely with champagne, and I think hazelnuts do too, so I did a variation of a salad that I'd made before, with slices of pear, then sliced endive tossed in a mustard dressing that had just a little bit of lemon juice in it, and topped with crumbled cheese and toasted hazelnuts.

I made the Iles Flottantes from JC's recipe. I've made it before, but had trouble with the Creme Anglaise - I must have overcooked it as I did have tiny tiny bits of cooked egg in it, despite straining. However, it sure tasted good, though was a bit thick. I also wish that I'd put thinner "threads" of caramel on top. Overall a pretty easy dessert, and one that can be made ahead of time and then assembled - just reheating the caramel.

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  1. A nicer photo of the main course and a fireside photo of the potatoes and champagne (before the potatoes were quickly removed to higher ground for safety reasons).

    1. Happy Anniversary! Absolutely stunning dinner. Will give the fish recipe a try with some trout I have in the freezer.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        Thanks - I did comment to my husband that, other than the beans, the dishes were rather colourless, but I think that came out of not wanting to compete with the champagne. I had some leftover iles flottantes with raspberries last night - no caramel - and that might have been a nice though non-traditional addition.

      2. Just lovely. That fish does sound wonderful. Very interesting technique to make the sauce from the skin and bones *after* the fish is cooked. Will have to try that--sometime in the future when I'm ready to add cream back into my diet. Happy anniversary from me as well.

        3 Replies
        1. re: JoanN

          Thanks - I was wondering if this was a traditional French method of some sort of making the sauce, but didn't see anything in my quick perusal of JC.

          1. re: MMRuth

            I didn't recall ever reading about that method for making the sauce, but just now (to avoid running errands in the cold) I looked up some of my best sources. Didn't find anything similar in Bocuse, Guerard, Senderens. Even Madeleine Kamman, who has pages and pages on how, and how not, to make a fumet and sauce therefrom always starts with raw heads and frames.

        2. Happy Anniversary. Your dinner looked wonderful and I'm sure tasted even better.

          1. Everything looks beautiful, Ruth! What a lovely dinner you prepared, and such a gorgeous setting. I'm very glad everything went so well. Best Wishes for many happy days for you and your DH.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Gio

              Wow, very impressive!!! I can only imagine how good it tasted. Congratulations and many happy returns Ruth. Thanks for sharing.

            2. That's doing a celebration right! Brava!
              I'm crazy for Iles Flottantes.

              1. mmruth: so gorgeous! what a wonderul anniversary gift you prepared. thanks for sharing. i can live the good life vicariously!

                1 Reply
                1. re: alkapal

                  Thanks - we actually just had the leftovers for dinner - mixed the rice, cut up beans, sauce and fish bits, heated up and added some mushrooms that I sauteed. And then finished off the iles flottantes - now back to the real world (grin).

                2. I'd like to make the sea trout recipe from Week In, Week Out, but my fishmonger doesn't stock sea trout. Could you use salmon instead, do you think?

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: greedygirl

                    I'm not sure about salmon, as you use the whole fish, and the resulting filets are quite thin. I'll take a look at the recipe again, and post back. Did your fishmonger have any good ideas about substitutes? I'll look at Fish Without a Doubt as well.

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      He suggested ordinary trout or salmon. But I'm dubious about the salmon as well, partly because it's an oily fish and you don't normally use oily fish bones for stock/sauces. I'm sure I can get sea trout if I go to Borough market, or I may be able to order in from the other fishmonger I sometimes use - will have to do some research. Luckily we have loads of places to buy fish near our house.

                    2. re: greedygirl

                      Now that I think about it, I made this for our anniversary again this year, and I couldn't find sea trout, but I'm trying to think what I used instead. Maybe branzino? I'm wondering how "regular" trout would be, as well? We get a trout here that has a lovely pinkish flesh. I do think you want to use a not too oily white fish. I hope that you enjoy it as much as we have. The leftovers make a lovely soup, and I would definitely serve some white rice with the dish.

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        We don't have branzino here, I don't think, unless it's called something else. I've never heard of it. Normal trout isn't particularly oily, but they don't tend to be very big either. I'd rather do one large fish than several small ones.

                        ETA - just googled and branzino is seabass - who knew?

                        1. re: greedygirl

                          Do you get striped sea bass there - that would be another good option, I think. Doing two small ones really wasn't any more trouble than doing one, for whatever it is worth - just have the fishmonger clean, gut and behead them. I'll keep thinking ....

                          1. re: greedygirl

                            Just to complicate matters, I think is the same as European Seabass, which differs from various ones found in the Americas:


                            Edit - and rainbow trout was the other trout I was thinking of that has the pinkish flesh. Do you have artic char? I don't know how big they are either though.

                            1. re: MMRuth

                              So a local fishmonger is hopefully going to get hold of a sea trout for me - because I'm doubling the recipe and serving 8 I think I need one large fish rather than several small ones. Plus I adore sea trout.

                              I'm thinking I probably need to cook it a bit longer than stated in the recipe but not double the time - what do you reckon, MMR? I will also probably try to prepare it in advance and reheat in the oven so I'm thinking it might be best to undercook it slightly. Or perhaps I'd be better off simply poaching it a la Elizabeth David and serving it with some kind of sauce - hollandaise, maybe? For sides, I'd like to do Jersey Royal potatoes (which are simply divine and seasonal at the moment) and asparagus.

                              1. re: greedygirl

                                Really - I'd make this recipe because it is fabulous. Trust me. I agree that it shouldn't take nearly as long as double, and I would just test the fish after the prescribed time given, and keep checking. I did do two fish instead of one when I made it last time, and it took the same amount of time. And, you can certainly make it ahead of time. Let me ponder the idea of reheating it in the oven - and I'll post back. How much in advance do you intend to make it? Because, if I recall correctly, I made it ahead of time too, b/c the sauce is a little bit of work.

                                1. re: MMRuth

                                  OK - I'm a forgetful idiot - looking up at my original post, I did reheat it in the oven for just a couple of minutes.

                        2. re: greedygirl

                          Yep - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5937... - it was branzino - sorry for the serial replies, but the earlier ones aren't showing up for me to edit.

                        3. This reappearance of your Anniversary dinner post brought tears to my eyes. I've - we've come a long way since then. But you, dear MM, were always a star.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Gio

                            Thanks Gio - v. sweet of you - just saw your post.

                          2. So my fishmonger came up with the goods, and I have a magnificent wild sea trout waiting for me in the kitchen. The best thing is it was the same price as the farmed version, because the fishmonger spotted a blemish on the skin and did a deal - result!

                            Anyway, it's just over 2kg gutted and headed, and I'm thinking I probably need to cook it for about an hour and a quarter. Elizabeth David says to poach sea trout for 15 mins per pound and bake it for 20 mins per pound. The original recipe (for a 1kg fish) is 45 mins.

                            Any views on this?

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: greedygirl

                              Excellent news. This is probably too late for you - I was out - but I guess I would check it after 45 minutes and see what you think, then go from there. Really hope you enjoy this after all of my raving!

                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  Well I managed to slightly overcook the fish - doh! I think an hour would have been about right and I cooked it for about ten minutes longer than that and left it in the warm oven while I made the sauce.

                                  On reflection, this was an ambitious dish to cook for the first time for eight, but I just about pulled it off, and the sauce was absolutely delicious. There wasn't a drop left. I'm slightly annoyed about the fish, but it was still flaky and quite moist. It really is a delicious fish.

                                  I wonder whether I might try poaching it in the champagne next time, in my fish kettle. When I've cooked a whole salmon before, I've let it come to the boil, and then switched off the heat and left the fish in the cooking liquid (with the lid on). It came out perfect.

                                  1. re: greedygirl

                                    Glad you enjoyed the sauce. Did you make the dish before your guests arrived? If so, I wouldn't have left the filets in the oven for that long.

                                    1. re: MMRuth

                                      No - I'd planned to but one guest arrived very early and that kind of threw me. I switched the oven off as soon as the fish was just cooked and left the door open so it would cool down quickly while I made the sauce. That was probably a mistake. I didn't expect the fish to cook so quickly and have little experience of preparing such large ones - it was more than double the quantity of the original recipe but didn't take that much longer. Anyway, I'm being picky. It really wasn't that overcooked - I've had a lot worse in restaurants!

                                      Also it was very hard to get the fillets off in one piece - mine wasn't nearly as pretty as the picture!

                                      I also made a couple of stunning Elizabeth David dishes - will report on those as soon as the relevant threads are up.

                                      1. re: greedygirl

                                        I also had problems fileting the fish. Can't wait to read about the ED dishes.

                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                          I know this is obvious - but feep filleting fish. It is a matter of practice; and once you get it down, its like a kitchen party trick. And then you'll start buying more fish, taking the fillets; and making stock with the frames.

                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            Yes - it's definitely gotten better since I first started! Thanks.

                              1. Your entire menu looks so wonderful, and I bet it was tasty! Creme Anglaise, goodness, your're brave! I love the way your dessert looks, oh gosh just all of it. The salad sounds scrumptious as well.
                                Did you eat this in the way we are seeing it? With salad as 4th course? How wonderful!

                                As always, thank you for your lovely photos, it is so appreciated!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: chef chicklet

                                  Yes, ate it in that order, though the salad was the 3rd course. Thanks for the kind words - it really was a wonderful meal.