I just can’t call this series the Top-Master-Chopped-Iron Chef anymore, so for the moment, I’m going with Reinventing the Whisk as the series continues. It’s just something that came to mind. There was a brief flirtation with something rephrased from Cole Porter’s Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, but I discarded it.
So we all know you’ve been waiting for our post on the “new versions” of sole veronique. The classic version got its due last week in a step-by-step post. As the night rolled around, Kevin Hopp and I had two additional cooks who signed up to participate, one, Jennifer, who has been a regular participant watching and chatting with us as we cooked, and another, a cooking school teacher from her current hometown in Mexico. As the time arrived, Kevin bowed out, claiming some nonsense about having a new baby just home from the hospital, responsibilities and all that, so he sat on a couch and watched us. I’m not letting him off the hook, he needs to cook his new version of s.v. one of these days soon! And, the cooking school teacher was a no-show, what can you do?
Let’s go for Jennifer’s Newborn Sole…
Cooking with Dan and Kevin has been a tremendous learning experience. Each time that I’ve just watched them, I’ve picked up useful techniques. I always thought that cooking with olive oil and butter was just plain gluttony, but Dan explained that the olive oil keeps the butter from burning. This evening was the first time that I cooked along with them.
Les Moustache in Mexico City is the only French restaurant I can recall ever patronizing. Well, there was Chez Chung in Omaha’s Old Market.
My culinary talents lean toward reading about food, collecting ingredients, and making reservations. Sole Veronique? I’d never had if before, so I had to research what the hell it was. And since I didn’t want to highly embarrass myself, I did a trial run last Friday night. It is an amazingly easy dish.
For the second time ever in my life, I set out a mise en place. Never mind that I can’t begin to pronounce it correctly.
Puree de Fava Bean
Well, actually more like mashed favas. I could have put them in the food processor, but I like the rough texture that hand-mashing yields.
Blanched and shocked, the peeled fava beans were cooked for about 10 minutes in olive oil, a small amount of water, a clove of chopped garlic, and branches of fresh rosemary and thyme. When they were tender, I fished out the herbs, added sliced mint, salt, more olive oil, and mashed them, keeping them warm until ready to serve. The fava beans would be the base upon which the fish would rest.
Sole, all the way from China by way of Costco. Frozen filets. I debated wrapping them in cheesecloth, and then I made myself lie down until the feeling past. So, I cut the filets in half to minimize breakage.
Butter, white wine (white Cabernet Sauvignon), a slug of dry vermouth and some water went into a shallow pan with the fish. Feeling arty, I laid a rosemary branch on top. The fish poached for 10 minutes or so, until done, and then that went into the toaster oven to remain warm.
The recipes all called for cream, eggs or both, and I don’t particularly like either, so I made some modifications.
Peeling the grapes. These seeded red grapes came by the name of “Mexican grapes.” No fancy name there. Peeling them was actually far easier than I’d anticipated. Plunge the grape into boiling water for about 30 seconds, and plunge them into ice water. How hard is that? The process didn’t take more than 5 minutes.
First came the roux: butter and flour. I should’ve browned the flour first, but I forgot. The fish poaching liquid was strained and added to the mixture, along with macadamia puree (Here in Michoacán, the locally grown macadamias are sold as crema macadamia, comprised of nothing more than macadamias.), salt, and stirred around over a low flame until the right consistency. Then the peeled grapes were added, just long enough to heat through and slightly permeate the sauce.
Now it was time to plate. Some garden cress and arugula were gathered from the garden to add color. Atop the base of fava bean puree, which should’ve been allowed to peek through in the photo but didn’t happen, I placed the warmed fish filet, topping that off with the sauce. And then, because the dish needed more color (and besides, it’s Mes Patria where I live), I scattered pomegranate seeds over everything. And added a sprig of rosemary just for good measure.
Damn, that was good! I have to admit no small measure of pride, and now I have a seriously easy dish to force upon friends who come to dinner. I think I may substitute filets of salmon next time.
And believe me, peeling grapes is definitely a meditative experience.
Thank you, Dan, for letting me join you this evening.
[You’re welcome, any time!]
Behind this series of online challenges is a series of goals that Kevin and I had originally talked about: a) getting the creative juices flowing; b) trying out techniques that we hadn’t before or hadn’t in awhile; and c) hopefully coming up with new dishes or simply components of dishes that we could add to our repertoires. The past challenges have accomplished all that for me, in the first challenge, the overall dish was just okay, but the take-away was the roasted beet and harissa paste combo, which I’ve used since in our new roasted beet and leek salad. The second round gave me a great spicy artichoke sauce that we’ve taken to pairing with different fish. The third round gave me a new version of hueveras fritas that’s become a favorite, almost unchanged from the challenge. And the fourth, not quite there, but we’ve been experimenting with different chicken dishes based on the challenge. I find myself looking back at this current challenge and wondering if there’s really something that I want to use from it. Of course, part of experimentation is deciding what direction NOT to go in the future.
For the fish itself, I cut a couple of large rounds out of the fillets, coated them with softened butter that I’d whipped with vermouth, salt and white pepper, and then sealed in a ziploc bag. Down the line, I simply poached them in hot water. I stacked two rounds with sauce under, between and above, semi, sort of mimicking the classic folded over veronique.
The sauce, I wanted to keep the idea of a cream and butter based white sauce, and who knows why, but the idea of a popcorn flavored sauce popped its kernel into my head. I suppose this qualifies as a new technique, as I’ve never actually made microwaved popcorn before – I love the flavor of popcorn, but hate the texture – it makes my teeth itch, like the squeaky-ness of styrofoam. I brought equal parts of cream, milk and fish stock to a simmer, then off the heat added in the popcorn and some grated parmesan and let it infuse for about 20 minutes. Then I pureed the whole thing in the blender and strained it to remove the bits of corn kernels and make it smooth. I finished it by rewarming it and whisking in an egg yolk and a couple of tablespoons of butter.
Lots of people put tarragon in their sole veronique, an herb which we don’t often see here, so I thought about using a fennel element. I roasted a bulb of fennel in the oven, then pureed it, mixed it in with a mashed, boiled potato, some flour and egg, and made gnocchi out of the mix. I also saved some of the fennel fronds for garnish.
The grapes – what to do, what to do…? A fritto misto came to mind and I thought I’d do a tempura batter version of both grapes and some thin lemon slices to get both elements into the dish. A bit of online sleuthing led me to believe that freezing the grapes first created the best result, as the grapes would otherwise turn to mush during the deep-frying. That may be, but it didn’t create the desired result – the grapes were still cold in the center by the time the batter had crisped up. My bet is they would have been just fine if they’d been at, say refrigerator temperature. The lemon slices came out beautifully.
I also got in a little more grape-ness by reducing some red grape juice down to a syrup with some black peppercorns in it, then straining them out.
The final dish… just didn’t like it. The roasted fennel gnocchi were god-awful. If I were to do them again I’d go with raw fennel and no potato, the same way I make cauliflower gnocchi. The roasted flavor made these weirdly sweet and just plain odd. I already said what I thought about the grapes.
The sauce was everything one might imagine from a creamy cheesy popcorn flavored sauce. It was also overwhelming for a delicate fish like sole. I could see using it again on something like chicken. But probably not as a sauce that smothered the whole dish – it’s just too rich. But I don’t see that in the offing anytime soon.
My take-away from this round, tempura lemon slices!