A Fish Sauce and Tony Bilson's Whiting Quenelles
Sunday, 28th June, 2009
Catching and eating fish is the ultimate life's pleasure. I seldom use a sauce as the approach to fish is cook them when fresh and keep it simple. With that said for a number of years I have experimented with a recipe of the great Elizabeth David which was published in The Complete Imbiber, No. 6. (Vista Books, London, 1963).
Like many I have noted an affinity of fish with fennel and anise flavourings which lifts rich fish soups and sauces so my interest in this recipe came when I saw she used Anisette de Bordeaux in preference to fennel bulbs or anisette seeds. This is not available in Australia but I found a Spanish Anis substitute in Dan Murphy's. Ms. David argues that the result from using the liqueur is superior to other ways of adding this flavouring (anethole). I believe she is right so here is her recipe.
Elizabeth David's Anis Sauce*
Finely chop up 2 small shallots
Add a heaped teaspoon of finely chopped tarragon leaves
Add a similar amount of finely chopped parsley
Flavour with salt and pepper
Mix in a scant teaspoon of French mustard
Add 24-30 drops of soy sauce
Next mix this in 6 tablespoons of fruity Provence oil
Add the juice of a small lemon
And finally one teaspoon of Anisette de Bordeaux-added just at the end.
She specifically recommends this sauce for lobster and I find the amount of soy sauce can overpower more delicate fish so I tend to use only half of this amount. She also notes that a teaspoon of anisette liqueur added to many cream sauces just at the end works wonders. The point being that the spirit has a concentrated burst of the anisette flavour that 'could hardly be achieved with a mountain of fennel stalks'.
I have tried gently warming this mixture and stirring to help it all integrate but the best result comes from making it and leaving in the fridge overnight so all the flavours can combine. Apart from the anisette the key is really the quality and freshness of the olive oil. It is used as a cold dipping sauce perhaps with small bowls on each plate.
*Ms David mentions that she came across this idea in a French cookbook from the 1830's and unusually this recipe mentioned soy sauce.
Then a favourite fish dish which I do not think I've perfected as my quenelles often break but when its works the result is beautiful. I think the reason for the quenelles not staying in one piece is the moisture in the fish which can vary and the amount of egg white. Those will more experience will know what to do. The only hard part is making sure no bones are in the mix but any that you do not see are caught in the sieving process. This part is quite time consuming but naturally provides the required texture.
Tony Bilson's Whiting Quenelles*
300gm whiting fillets, skinned and boned
150 gm flathead fillets
2 egg whites
Make sure all ingredients are cold. Place fish pieces in a food processor with the egg whites. When the fish is a smooth paste add the chilled cream in a steady stream.
Pass mixture through a fine sieve. Add salt. Mix. Refrigerate for at least one hour.
Pot of hot water to 95C. Ovoid tablespoon dip in hot water. Shape quenelles on spoon. Lower spoon into water. Shake quenelle free. Simmer for three minutes then turn the quenelle. Remove with a slotted spoon. Garnish with a champagne and cream sauce with truffles, a yabbie coulis, or a beurre blanc with a julienne of basil etc
*From Tony Bilson's Recipe Book, William Heinemann Australia, 1987 and later a cheap edition by Mandarin Australia, 1993 part of the Cooks' Collection.