People who know me would tell you that it's hard to tell which I like more: gardening or cooking. I'd say it depends on which I'm doing at the moment. Anyway, French cooking and French gardening go hand in hand. For me, cooking is an on-going adventure. Join me here on my culinary explorations, where I share with you both my old favorites as well as new inspirations. It's my fondest wish that these recipes serve as a springboard for your own new creations.
04/13/2010 Shad (or trout or salmon) with linden sauce (Alose à la sauce de tilleul)
To serve 4:
1 shad* (or trout or salmon steaks) weighing around 2 1/4 lbs. For the fumet: Bones and head of the fish* gills removed, well washed 2 T. olive oil 1 onion, diced 1 carrot, sliced 2 stalks celery, with leaves, sliced 1 bay leaf 6 stalks parsley 2 c. dry white wine 5 peppercorns
1 c. dried linden bracts and flowers** (linden 'tea')
For cooking the fish:
1 tsp. butter 20 pencil-thin baby leeks, trimmed and washed The filtered fumet from above The fish filets, rubbed with sea salt and pepper
For the sauce:
The fumet and juices drained from the cooked fish 2 egg yolks 1/2 cup crème fraîche Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste A few drops of verjus or fresh lemon juice (optional and to taste)
*Shad is a salt water fish in the herring family that migrates up freshwater rivers much like salmon to spawn. It is only available for a short period in spring. Shad, in spite of its unattractive name, has a delicious, delicate flesh, white when cooked although pink and blood-gorged when raw. It has the most complex network of bones of any fish I've ever cooked (see below). If you can't find shad, use trout or salmon. If using salmon, you'll need to use the head and carcass of another fish for making the fumet, as the salmon is too oily. **Use only bulk-packed linden flowers, not tea bags.
If you're able to find fresh shad, and if you are irritated (as I am) by fish bones in your mouth, you'll want to remove as many of the bones as possible with tweezers. It won't be possible to remove all of the bones, as there are many layers of them, without destroying the structure of the flesh. However, use your finger to stroke along the fish lightly to feel the bones, and pull out one by one with tweezers all that you feel. (I keep a pair of tweezers just for this use. If you can find a Japanese cooking supply store, they sometimes carry superb tweezers made just for this purpose.) Some of the bones are Y-shaped! Feel between the rows of muscles to find the different arrays of bones. If you don't mind picking through myriad bones on your plate you can skip this part. The bones of shad are very soft.
Wash the filets very thoroughly several times, drain them flesh side down on paper towels, salt and pepper them lightly, and reserve in a cool place.
Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a large heavy casserole. Add the fish carcass and head, cleaned of all bloody parts and cut into large pieces. Once they turn opaque and whitish, add the vegetables and herbs, as well as the wine and bring to a boil. Add water to barely cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook, partly covered, 30 minutes. Filter the fumet through a very fine strainer (or line a coarser strainer with damp toweling or cheesecloth) into a medium saucepan. Place over high heat and reduce to about 2 cups. Add the linden flowers to the reduction, stir to moisten, cover, and let steep until cool. Strain again and discard the linden.
Blanch the baby leeks in boiling salted water. Drain, refresh, and spread out on paper towels to absorb any remaining moisture.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Butter a baking dish just big enough to hold the filets. Arrange the leeks in the bottom like a layer of little logs. Lay the filets on top, skin side down. Add the strained fumet. Cover with foil and bake 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish. There should be no pink spots remaining. Drain all liquid from the fish into a small saucepan, holding the filets in place with a large spatula as you top the dish. Cover and keep warm.
Whisk the egg yolks with the crème fraîche. Heat the fumet drained from the fish over low heat and gradually whisk in the cream mixture. Hold over low heat, whisking, until the sauce thickens to a velvety consistency. Do not allow the sauce to boil. Remove from heat and correct the seasoning with sea salt, pepper, and verjus or lemon juice if your wine wasn't very acidic.
To serve, divide the fish onto 4 warmed plates, giving each person part of the back and part of the belly. Nap with a little sauce; pass the rest at table. Serve with steamed new potatoes.
Note: I never once ate shad in the U.S. because I found it's name so unattractive! And when I bought the fish today (called alose here in France), I became squeamish after researching it and learning it is in the herring family. (I detest herring.) Was I ever agreeably surprised! This fish is delicious and unlike any other fish I've tasted. It is moist, delicate in flavor, and slightly rich without being unctuous. Jump on it if you find it! The linden sauce, which I'd been wanting to concoct for a long time, married perfectly with it. Sauces for freshwater fish infused with linden are occasionally found in the Vaucluse in southern France.