April 22, 2005
Fish Casserole - The One That Didn't Get Away

fish casserole.jpgI made a fish casserole. It smelled wonderful. It looked delicious. It was perfect. Until it fell on the floor. And so I had to make it again, to see if I was right about how good it would be. And it was very, very good, but not as good as I'm sure the original was. Isn't that always the way?

Actually, I seem to have chronic problems with making dishes for the second time. Barrett will remember the second time I tried to make Bearnaise sauce for eggs Benedict. The first time - despite how difficult all the books claimed it was - it turned out perfectly. The second time I went through several pounds of butter and gave up in the end with a split greasy sauce that my supportive roommates told me "tasted just as good" as a successful Bearnaise sauce. (They lied.)

So it was no surprise when the second edition of this casserole didn't turn out quite as well as the first. That said, it was still pretty tasty. It just couldn't live up to the perfection of the one that got away!

Fish, cream and ham: a perfect triumvirate. When I was growing up in the 70s I loved the creamed chipped beef my best friend Ginger's mother made for us on toast. And fish and cream of course make a silky luxurious pairing. The three together are sublime. Oh and then add some leek, yum.

This is a nice quick casserole dinner. I boiled the potatoes and leeks for a few minutes so that they would cook as quickly as the fish in the oven. While they were boiling, I was able to prepare the rest of the ingredients so not a minute was wasted.

Fish Casserole

400 g white fish, such as cod, cut in large cubes (next time I'm trying monkfish)
2 large potatoes
20cl cream
1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
1 egg
75 g Canadian bacon or English bacon, fat removed
1 leek, washed and sliced in rings
1/2 cup comté or gruyère cheese, grated
grated nutmeg, pepper

Peel the potatoes and chop one in small cubes. Boil the potato cubes and sliced leek for ten minutes. Slice the remaining potato very thinly. Mix the cream and the egg until smooth. Drain the potatoes and leek rings and add to the cream, along with the parsley, the fish and the bacon (cut in strips). Mix well and pour into a greased baking dish. Use the potato slices to cover the fish mixture and grate a little nutmeg over them. Top with the grated cheese and back in a hot oven (200c/400F) until the cheese is browned, the potatoes are tender and the whole dish is bubbling merrily. Remove carefully from the oven and show it to your dinner guests before you serve. It won't look nearly as pretty on the plate!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at April 22, 2005 1:35 PM | TrackBack Print-friendly version

Bearnaise is a derivative of hollandaise--in order to get good at making the former, try making the latter a few times in order to get your chops up. Fewer ingredients and without playing with the shallot white wine reduction, it takes less time, too.

Here is a tip--do not have your melted clarified butter too warm when you whip them into the egg yolks--this can break the sauce very quickly and you will end up with a greasy nasty mess. It curdles the yolks--partially cooks them. You should have your yolks and butter as close to the same temperature as possible when you start blending the two together. This is best done by cooling the melted butter slightly and warming the yolks a bit by putting them in a metal bowl over a pan of simmering (not boiling) water. Make certain that the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl, as it will start to cook the yolks. You don't want that--you just want them to be slightly warmed.

Taking your eggs out of the fridge early and putting them on the counter for a bit to come to a gradual room temperature seems to help , too.

The only way to get good at it is to keep doing it.

Also, once the sauce is made, serve it warm, and immediately. As it cools, it breaks.

The temperaray emulsion sauces based on egg yolk and butter are fragile--but delicious, and are well worth learning.

Posted by Barbara on April 25, 2005 at 12:00 PM

Barbara, thanks for the tips! Actually, i meant Hollandaise sauce of course, not Bearnaise. And my own personal sure-fire trick which I picked up some time ago from Nigel Slater is to use small pieces of warm butter instead of melted butter. The butter melts slowly into the egg and emulsifies almost automatically.

I'm still a big fan of homemade Hollandaise sauce. They sell it in jars here, but it's nothing compared to the real stuff!

Posted by Meg in Paris on April 25, 2005 at 3:24 PM

Sold in jars? Gah. It is likely stablized with modified food starch and whatnot else.

You are always welcome for the tip--I used to coach younger students in culinary school on the hollandaise, because I already could make it with my eyes shut when I got there.

Of all things, it was bechamel that buggered me up. ;-)

Posted by Barbara on April 25, 2005 at 8:49 PM
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