And I have a couple theories as to why this is.
First: The shape of a fish filet is a little bit more subdued than other cuts of meat. Do you know what I mean? Unless you cook a whole fish, like with the eyeball and everything, it doesn’t really look so much like a fish, but rather a sliver of something attempting to look like a piece of chicken.
Second: Fish cooks very quickly. So there often isn’t much time to fiddle with my camera during meal preparation. It also must be eaten warm. So who wants to waste time photographing the plate when the meal is cooling to unsatisfyingly cool temperatures right before your very eyes?
Filet de Poisson Bercy aux Champignons (Fish Filet Poached in White Wine with Mushrooms) (Julia Child’s recipe, of course)
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
- 7 cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2. Heat the butter in a skillet. When it starts bubbling, add the mushrooms and sautee for a couple minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and remove just when they are about to brown.
- 1 haddock filet (or cod or pollack or whatever looks good where you get your fish)
3. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 1/2 cup white wine (I used a white table wine blend)
- 1/2 cup water
4. Place the onions in the bottom of an oven-safe baking dish or skillet. Top with the fish filet. Place the cooked mushrooms on top. Pour in the wine/water mixture. Bring to an almost-simmer on the stove top.
5. Tuck in a piece of buttered parchment paper. Put the whole dish in the bottom third of the oven for 10 minutes.
- 1.5 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon flour
6. While the fish poaches, using your fingers, mash the butter and flour together to make what Julia Child calls a “paste.” I felt it was more like a blob of butter with some flour stuck to it, but whatever.
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
7. After 10 minutes, remove the fish dish. Turn on your broiler. Carefully scoop out the fish filet with a spatula. Pour the poaching liquid into a small saucepan and boil on high heat for 3-5 minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk in the butter/flour mashup. Pour in the cream and continue stirring until heated through.
8. Put the fish back in the baking dish. Pour the cream sauce over it. Dot with a couple pieces of swiss cheese (if you’d like) and broil for 3 minutes.
And that’s it! Scoop the fish out of the sauce but ladle some sauce back on top before serving.
The white wine sauce smells intoxicatingly delicious. (Don’t worry, the alcohol steams off when you boil down the sauce). And there’s just something about white wine for poaching fish that is so simple yet so amazing–the flavor permeates through the whole fish so that the fish flesh becomes a sort of vessel for the wine’s aroma. It’s kind of cleansing and nourishing. Light and simple.
You could certainly make this dish without mushrooms, but while we’re on the subject, why don’t I share an amusing anecdote about mushrooms? When I studied in Lyon, France, I visited the open-air markets a few times to acquire some ingredients to cook. Mostly these were simple things as my lodgings were fairly simple, and my cooking repertoire was not quite up to where it is today. One day I found a farmer selling 1 kilo of mushrooms for 1 euro. As it was near the end of my stay in France, I didn’t want 1 kilo, and tried to ask him for half a kilo – un demi-kilo. But what I ended up saying was la moitié–the half, meaning half the price he was asking. He scoffed and replied something to the effect of “you’re not going to find a cheaper kilo of mushrooms in this whole city” (or quite possibly “are you insane?!? you are so insulting!”). So I sheepishly walked away. But I still needed some mushrooms. Not wanting to return to this farmer to tell him that I wanted his mushrooms after all, I bought some not-as-good-looking mushrooms (a whole kilo of them) a few stalls down and paid 3 euros.
By the way, if you need to ask a French farmer for a 1/2 kilo of mushrooms, you should ask “Pourrais-je acheter un demi-kilo de champignons?”
After eating almost all of my meal, I decided it might have plated more nicely had I placed one piece of fish filet atop each potato latkes. The above photo suggests what this might have looked like, except, well, not so eaten. But this gives you a cutaway view of the fish in all its white wine flakiness.
Do you eat enough fish (and I don’t mean the golden cracker variety)? How do you like to prepare your fish? What’s fear-inducing about making fish? Anybody have any tips for photographing fish dishes? Do you fish for your own fish? Leave a comment with your whale of a tale.