Friday, May 4, 2012

Hook, Line and Sinker

I am not aware of any flounder, or its relation sole, making it up the All American Canal to the Coachella Valley.  Maybe that’s because being a flatfish with two eyes on the same side makes navigation difficult.  Or more likely they don’t cotton to our desert clime.  So we are at the mercy of local fishmongers who occasionally truck a limited amount of fish in from Los Angeles.  Apparently flounder is not a desert favorite as none of the local fishmongers had any in stock.  After my sous chef’s patience was tested to the breaking point, we settled on a duo of related flatfish:  petrale sole and dover sole (the Pacific variety—not the real thing from off the coast of Great Britain). 

A piece of Modern Art - mixed media
To make this week’s French Fridays with Dorie challenge even more interesting, my creative sous chef suggested we do a wine tasting between Vouvray and Sancerre to determine which was the best pairing for the light, delicate fish we were about to prepare.  I am always in favor of tweaking the challenge, particularly when it involves quaffing some very good wines.  For the tasting we chose a 2009 Marc Brédif Vouvray and a 2009 Les Tuilières Sancerre.

Painting the Sole with egg - the color of this egg is so bright and sunny

We rarely cook fish at home.  First, we don’t have a great retail source for fresh fish, second, my sous chef is adverse to fish smells in the house and, third, we think restaurants do a better job cooking fish than we do.  So we generally confine our fish consumption to restaurants.  Neither of us has ever knowingly consumed flounder, but we each have enthusiasm for the sole family of flatfish.  My sous chef waxes poetic about the petrale sole served at The Tadich Grill in San Francisco.  And I am a huge fan of the sole dishes prepared by Chef Bernard Deverieux at his restaurant, Cuistot, in Palm Desert.  Chef Bernard is a classically trained French chef, so he knows a thing or two about the preparation of sole. 

Coated both sides of the Sole
Our concerns about preparing this week’s recipe were quickly dispelled.  This is one of the simplest meals I’ve prepared in my life.  Prep time was about 3 minutes and, with only 6 minutes of cooking time, dinner can be on the table in less than 15 minutes making it a perfect weeknight meal.  That is less time than it takes to order and pick up food at the local pizza joint.  And my sous chef discerned no unpleasant fish odors.

Cook 3 minutes per side in butter 
 The fish was delectable - moist, firm and succulent.  I ground slivered almonds in the food processor and left it more grainy than powdery to give the coating more color and texture.  The result was a crispy, visually appealing crust that I thoroughly enjoyed but which my sous chef felt overwhelmed the delicate flavors of the sole.  He likely would feel differently if we had used halibut as a flounder substitute since the addition of flavor would be welcomed.  We did agree this coating would make a great crust on chicken or turkey and would be better if ground more finely when used on fish.  This coating is a winner and I fell for it hook, line and sinker.

The almond crust is really fragrant with the lemon zest
There was no real winner in the wine tasting competition as both wines were excellent and worked well with either the petrale sole or the dover sole.  Although clearly siblings, there were some differences.  The Vouvray had a slightly floral nose with a  small touch of honey in taste – delicate like the fish.  Whereas, the Sancerre was crisp with a little gravel hint on the palate and utterly wonderful for the richness of the fish.  I recommend you do your own taste test.  There is no reason to limit yourself to one bottle of wine with this fish recipe.

Rhubarb Custard Pie with a little French Vanilla Ice Cream (it is French Friday after all)
To complete our meal, I made a favorite dessert that presented a nice contrast of flavors to the fish that preceded it.  I love rhubarb in many iterations, but an absolute favorite is Rhubarb Custard Pie.  Pre-Culinary Diva, my Southern California born and raised sous chef had never been exposed to a rhubarb, except during his baseball playing days.  Fortunately, he has taken a liking to the sour, tangy, sweetness of the vegetable, which allows me to indulge my rhubarb passion throughout the summer.   

Sous Chef wanted me to describe the size of the chopped rhubarb, this looks about 1/2 inch to me

This recipe originates from my grandmother, and I have adapted it slightly to my taste by including more rhubarb.  

Rhubarb Custard Pie

4 to 4 ½ Cups Rhubarb
1 Cup Sugar
2 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
3 Eggs

Preheat oven to 350.

Rough chop the rhubarb into half-inch pieces and place in bowl.  Add sugar, flour, and eggs to bowl with rhubarb and stir until all ingredients are combined.

Line pie plate with pie crust (use ready-made or make your own).  Place rhubarb mixture in pie crust, and top with pie crust.  Poke holes with fork or knife to vent crust while baking.  Place in oven. 

Bake approximately 45 minutes.  After 30 minutes of baking, rub top of pie crust with butter and sprinkle a little sugar on crust.  Bake another 15 minutes and check for doneness.  When pie is done, remove from oven to cool.

To read more French Friday with Dorie experiences, or to buy the book:

It's sort of like a Dump Cake but a Dump Pie - put it all in a bowl and mix well
I vent the bottom crust with a few pricks of a fork before putting the mix in

Top crust on and vented
Flaky, sugary, golden crust combined with the tart Rhubarb makes for a perfect medley