Sunday, March 22, 2009

Day 6 - Sole à la Meunière, Boiled Parsleyed Potatoes, and Sautéed Snap Peas and Baby Turnips

First of all, can I have some props for properly using all those accents aigus and graves in this entry's title?

Second, the maximum number of characters for Blogspot titles wouldn't allow for the entire title of this entry, so here it is, in all its glory:

Day 6 - Sole à la Meunière, Boiled Parsleyed Potatoes, and Sautéed Snap Peas and Baby Turnips, plus Skinning Dover Sole, Serving Sautéed Dover Sole, Clarifying Butter, and Herbed Compound Butter

This was actually going to be a quiet cooking day, possibly even a day off, but the FNBF (Fabulous New Boy Friend) graciously relented to a night of being my sous chef, so I went for it, and tackled three (seven?) recipes, one of them a doozy.

Where do I begin?

First of all, tonight was basically a butter orgy. The whole thing started with:

Clarifying Butter (p. 88)

I needed this for cooking the sole, because butter has a higher burning point (i.e. you can make it hotter) if you remove the milk solids. So, two sticks of butter becomes... well, less than that. It's easy to do, and it feels like you end up with something that's still butter but somehow healthier, maybe?

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Herbed Compound Butter (p. 166)

This was an option to replace plain butter in the snap pea recipe, so I thought, why not? Who doesn't like a little jujjed up butter? (How do you spell "juzh" anyway? Zhuzh?) Basically, it's a stick of butter with fresh herbs and salt mixed in, and if you're really fancy, you roll it up in a parchment log and harden it so you can serve it in sweet, little, round pats. I'm not that fancy. Mine is in a ramekin. I haven't tasted it yet outside the peas, but I'm looking forward to enjoying it this week. Incidentally, there are four other compound butter variations for me to try, so you'll be hearing about this again.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Now, on to the doozy:

Sole à la Meunière (p. 250)
Skinning Dover Sole (p. 250)
Serving Sautéed Dover Sole (p. 252)

Dover Sole is a fish that has existed totally outside my radar. I've always gravitated toward steaky, fleshy, meaty fish (tuna, salmon, halibut, etc), dismissing the more delicate ones as wimpy, precious, much ado about nothing. But the FNBF zeroed in on this recipe, and today was as good a day as any to give it a whirl.

I shopped today, as I often do, at Fairway, which had everything I needed - except for Dover Sole. So I ducked into Citarella next door and - success! However, I was quite stung by the price tag on the skinny mini: $29 a pound! I thought to myself: A) so much for my project being economical, and B) I'm about to massacre a $34 fish. Whatever... it's all in the name of art, cooking, and education. (Could this be tax deductible? Does anyone know?)

The fish counter person (is he called the fishmonger?) offered to skin it, but having read the recipe several hundred times, I knew that I needed to keep the skin on one side, and I needed to learn how to remove the skin on the other side. So I asked him merely to trim it. I thought this meant he would remove all of the icky inside things. How wrong I was... But don't let me get ahead of myself.

The fish came out of the paper smelling REALLY fishy. P. U. And strangely, the skin on this fish is dark grey on one side and white on the other. Looking at the picture that accompanied the Skinning Dover Sole lesson, I surmised that I wanted to be ripping off the grey side, which went pretty well, thanks to Martha's fine instructions. (Jeff: A, Martha: A)

Next was the dredging, which included my introduction to Wondra flour, wondrous because it is processed to not clump, so evidently it is a chef's favorite for coating fish.

Without going into every last detail about the final steps of cooking the fish, I will say this. I don't think I had the right pan for cooking this fish. I used my biggest pan, which was still a little too small. It's a beat up, old, non-stick number, but I think this fish would have seriously benefited from having been cooked in a beautiful "copper oval sauté pan," which is what Martha recommends. (Doh!) Ah, well.

Getting the fillets from the fish (i.e. the Serving Sautéed Dover Sole lesson) was a mixed bag. At first, everything seemed to be going well, exactly as instructed. The skinless-side fillets lifted off nicely, and the spine came right out. The bottom fillets were more problematic. The skin wasn't separating from the fish, so I had to get my fingers in there, which was not cute.

And I made an outrageous oversight. Seems that the fishmonger cleaned out much of the fish, but left me a couple of presents in there, specifically the roe sacks. I noticed and removed one when I was serving the fillets, but I missed the second one, and it ended up on my plate, unrevealed until I had eaten part of it. (Ugh.) All I have to say is - beware. (Jeff: B-, Martha: A-)

As for the overview of the Sole à la Meunière experience, I'd say that the flour side of the fish was too soggy - we were wishing it had been crisper. (Maybe I should have let it brown more? Made the pan hotter?) The flavor of the fish was terrific, delicate and totally un-fishy. (How did THAT happen?) And the texture was also great - perfectly moist and cooked just enough. But at $17 a serving, I wanted something heavenly, and for me (and the FNBF), this was earthbound.

Finally, I have two little gripes with the recipe. First, the recipe calls for "1 Whole Dover Sole (1 to 1 1/2 pounds), trimmed and skinned." Clearly, Martha, you don't mean skinned because in the margin, you teach us how to skin one side, and in the recipe, you talk about cooking it with the skin still on the other side. So, one half grade off for that. Second, what's with the addition of another half stick of butter at the end of this preparation? I thought there was still plenty of butter already in the pan. That was butter overkill, even for a butter orgy.

Jeff: B+
Martha: B+

Boiled Parsleyed Potatoes (p. 304)

The FNBF took the lead on these last two recipes, wonderful sous chef that he is, and both were prepared well. The potatoes were exactly what I expected, which is not much. I've never cared for potatoes plain. I like my potatoes disguised, either with crunchiness (fries, chips), or with creaminess (mashed, au gratin). When potatoes are boiled or baked plain, I'm just not inspired. These were adorable little red and yellow creamers, flecked with parsley and glistening with butter. Any potato lover would kvell, but for me, no big whoop.

Martha: A

Sautéed Snap Peas and Baby Turnips (p. 323)

This recipe also left me a little cold. I do love sugar snap peas, which I usually steam or blanch, and I didn't mind the addition of butter (especially that sassy Herbed Compound Butter), but I thought the vinegar, turnip, and scallion add-ons detracted from the proceedings.

To be fair, I couldn't find baby turnips, so we used a small regular turnip. But unless baby turnips have some magical flavor-uniting properties, I think this is a combo that I don't need to revisit.

Martha: B

Wow, that was epic! I may have to take tomorrow off, just to recharge!

Until we eat again...

That's the white skin side, with FNBF's finger pointing at the price tag!

And that's the grey skin side. Weird, right?

This was after the skinning lesson. Look at the teeny weeny fin I had to cut off. It's that little thing to the right of the shears.

Before I butchered it...

Like a cartoon fish skeleton...

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