Remember those high school days when you took certain subjects and said to yourself that you would never have to use what you learnt in your everyday life – well that’s kind of how I felt during my fish class; that fileting a fish was not something I’d ever do again. But like that famous saying goes – never say never, because I’m now actually anticipating fileting a fish at home, after actually getting it right, and the pride I felt in my accomplishment. And then there were the praises doled out by my husband and mom after they tasted my fish meuniere (shallow-fried fish). And my husband, who is notorious for not wanting to eat a fish once it’s been sitting around, actually requested seconds a day later.
Fish meuniere is simplicity at its finest, but as flavorful as they come and can be applied to whole or fileted fish.
The fish is cleaned, washed in salted water (because Chef Charles Missick says he doesn’t know who has been handling the fish) and drained; lightly seasoned with ground goat pepper and salt; and passed through flour, ensuring shaking off of the excess, before shallow frying three minutes on presentation side first, then flipping for a two-minute cook on the second side in hot clarified butter or olive oil, which we plated topped with a peeled lime slice dipped in parsley flakes.
We heated up a tad bit of olive oil in a clean pan then added up to one ounce of butter per portion in a clean pan to the nut-brown stage, before sprinkling in chopped parsley, a few turns of fresh pepper, then turning off the heat and squeezing in lime/lemon which we then poured over the plated fish and served with parsley potatoes and a quick sautéed spinach with garlic and sliced onions.
Easy-peasy and utterly delicious! This is a dish for your repertoire that can be pulled out when you want to impress.
It’s a preparation application that can be used with almost any fish – sole, filets of plaice, trout, brill, cod, turbot, herring, scampi … our fish of choice in week four of my Gourmet Cooking 1 Class at Chef Charles Missick’s Simply Better Catering Institute were beautiful red snappers.
Referring to himself as a chef who likes to cook controversially, a second preparation of fish poached in red wine was also the order of the night, with the chef allowing us to taste both to determine which preparation we preferred or if we liked both, before we got down to the task of replicating what had been presented to us.
The poached fished was just as easy as the meuniere. A pan is lightly coated with olive oil then sprinkled with chopped shallots or a diced onion; the seasoned filet is placed on top of the shallots with the tail end curled under for even cooking. Sliced mushrooms are placed on top of the fish, before a few turns of fresh pepper and the addition of red wine half way up the pan; parsley can be added if wanted, before covering the mixture with wax paper to help provide steam. At this point place on top of stove. Fish is removed from mixture when cooked through, and sauce continues to cook and allowed to reduce with the addition of cooking cream (heavy cream in a pinch). As sauce starts to bubble, and thickens, turn off stove, add a piece of butter to pan and shake in until it melts which allows sauce to not form a coat if by chance it has to sit for an extended time.
The poached fish was served atop pan roasted potatoes and spinach with sauce added to half the fish.
Both dishes were excellent!
The challenge in the fourth class came in getting my snappers broken down. Goodness knows having to ensure the filets were boneless could certainly be aggravating for a first-timer. And it was a case of highs and lows for me trying to ensure my filets were bone free.
When I was able to produce a perfect filet, that meant a shimmy of delight; but when it came down to ensuring all those aggravating bones were removed – well, that in itself was an aggravation. I also honestly wanted to throw in the towel, when a bone wouldn’t budge.
It even got to the point where I told myself that I would never filet another fish and that fileting that fish would be first and last experience.
But Chef Missick would not allow any towels to be thrown or white flags waved in surrender – from me or any of my classmates. His eagle eye spotted whenever anyone hit a snag and he was immediately next to the person coaching them through the problem.
The sense of accomplishment I felt after this class was amazing. I’ve already changed my tune, and I’m looking forward to replicating these dishes at home. And I promise to remove every bone. (I won’t give up and serve a filet with a bone still in it.)
Those fish heads and carcasses did not go to waste. They were used to make fish stock to be used at a later date. Again, embarrassingly simple. Add mushrooms and sliced onion to a pan with a little melted butter along with the fish bones and heads, stems from parsley (reserve leaves for another use) and a bay leaf, add water to cover, top with waxed paper to retain steam; as soon as the mixture boils, turn off heat and set aside to cool and strain.
And of course, knowing how to recognize fresh fish was a must – the eyes should be full and clear, the gills bright and red, and when pressed the flesh should not remain depressed, but rather spring back; and even though it’s a fish, it should not smell fishy.
Next week, during the fifth week of the six-week course, we will be addressing the preparation of and roasting of meat.
Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.