Doc B cooks a fish

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Doc B got a fish-poachin’ pan for Xmas, so he went down to his local fishmonger and picked him out a nice, local fish. Here she is, a two-pound Mediterranean sea bass (called loup in French, which also means “wolf”; smaller ones are called bar — sort of like “cod” and ‘scrod,” I guess), posing in the pan next to the fancy Japanese knife that I also got for Xmas, plus a bunch of Italian “palm cabbage” (more about that to come) and a very handy local fish cookin’ book. btw, those are her egg cases at bottom right in the pan. The fish guy asked if I wanted to keep them and I figured they weren’t heavy so I’d at least carry them home and figure out what to do with them later. I ended up just seasoning them and stuffing them back in the fish, natural-like, before cooking. They were extremely fluffy and rich when cooked and Valérie gobbled them up without flinching. I wasn’t as crazy about them but what do I know? I guess I was just expecting something more dense and salty.

first-layer.jpgDoc B can’t cook anything without chopping up a bunch of onions first, so that’s what I did with the fancy Japanese knife. Also had a red bell pepper that was starting to shrivel, so I chopped that up for a little color, along with some shallots and garlic. While I was chopping, the loup was marinating in a coating of olive oil with some fennel seed and tarragon, salt and pepper. The oil was a fruity elixir from a local olive variety called Clermontaise — I got it at the local olive oil cooperative’s booth at the Place de la Comédie Xmas market, where I was able to taste half a dozen or so just-pressed local oils (that was fun).

In my Med fish book (see first photo), which gives the name of the fish in any number of Mediterranean languages, plus a few obscure if not dead regional French languages (to wit, what the French call loup is called lavráki in Greece, qarous in Tunisia, spigola in Italy, and ragnola in Corsica), there were a couple cooking suggestions. I liked the Turkish one that suggested simple poaching with spinach since the fish was already in a poacher and I had a paper sackful of spinach in the fridge that needed to be cooked post haste.

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I also had a nice bunch of Italian cabbage that I got from my go-to guy at the Saturday morning organic market, an eccentric Turk who has invited me several times to see his farm since I can say a few words to him in Turkish (I haven’t been yet). He calls it “palm cabbage” because it grows like a palm tree (I’m guessing more like a palmetto but I’ll have to go and see for myself one of these days). The leaves are fine and tender although heavily textured, about 30 cm long but only 5 cm or so across at their widest point, and they steam up nice and tasty in a bare fraction of the time that collards take and without the strong, bitter flavor. I can’t wait to try to get seeds from my man Marco (can’t possibly be his real name — I bet it’s Mehmet). The bugs love it — the leaves are invariably littered with holes but that’s organic for you. They don’t eat much.

loup-simmering_2.jpgMore salt (Breton sea salt to make our friend le loup feel at home), pepper, and a basic court-bouillon of about 2 cups water and 1/2 cup white wine vinegar and it was poachin’ time.

Guy at the fish place sez “don’t you cook this thing any more than 15 minutes or you’ll ruin it.” I listened to him because this fat loup would have cost me 25 euros to replace if you catch my meaning. I put in on a low fire (actually two low fires — the camera don’t lie) for 14 or 15 minutes and figured that since it took a couple minutes for the liquid to start boiling, it shouldn’t be overcooked. And it wasn’t, thank Poseidon. If anything, it was a hair undercooked but not at all raw, which is perfect in my book.

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And here she is all gussied up on the most appropriate serving dish we had (take note 2007 Xmas shoppers). She was paired with a delightful Alsatian Riesling that did everything it was asked and then some. I’ll have to try to find it again (got it at a neighborhood spot called Carrefour).

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As you can see, this was no guppy. Her flesh was thick and substantial, not to mention delicious, but after getting through one side, we were done — stick a fork in us, flip us over, turn down the fire. Despite the price paid for the fish, she would have easily fed four (prolly six Europeans) with the veggies (we only ate about half, if that) and rice or potatoes (neither of which I fixed this night) so she wasn’t that extravagant a purchase. And she was good. Have to do it again sometime soon.

7 thoughts on “Doc B cooks a fish

  1. It sounds like a good meal — wish I was there. The “palm cabbage” looks a lot like the “Nero di Toscano” variety of kale that Alison and I grow in our garden. It’s also referred to as “dinosaur kale” by some people around here because it looks so primitive. It is very tasty without the toughness and bitterness of collards or other bigger brassicas.

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  2. Nice story.
    For all you fish poaching fans, I believe a rack came with that poacher… I didn’t see it in the picture.
    The rack holds the fish off the bottom of the pan, so the fish is surrounded by the poaching liquid.
    You can see the hint of the rack in my poacher at http://www.eatsforone.com/?p=104
    Little handles stick up at the end, so you can lift the fish out when it is done.
    If the poacher didn’t come with a rack, use something like chopsticks to hold the fish off the bottom.

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  3. Regarding the fish eggs:

    They got fluffy and rich because they’re full of protein and fat, like a chicken egg (building blocks of the baby fish), and they’re not salty because they haven’t been ‘preserved’ with salt the way caviar and other preserved fish eggs are done. They would only be as salty as seawater (so they don’t explode once they are expelled from the mother).

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  4. Yes, I had the fish marinating in the olive oil and herbs in the pan while I was peeling and chopping stuff. The rack would have inhibited this slightly. Once done chopping onions, I had to take the anointed fish out of the pan with one hand and put the rack in with the other — not as easy as it sounds.

    Re: the fish eggs, it’s possible they were livers rather than egg sacs, altho I don’t know if fish have more than one liver. Either each individual egg was really, really, really small (the contents of the sacs were quite smooth, not grainy), or it was something else. The bottom line is Valérie liked ’em just fine.

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  5. A note on the Italian “palm cabbage:” It does indeed appear to be kale. According to wikipedia, kale is unambiguously Brassica oleracea, which is the fascinating plant species that includes other foods such as cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, and any number of Chinese variations. However, I always thought of kale as what some call Russian kale, which appears to be a form of turnip greens (Brassica napus) –definitely more bitter than this Italian kale. Now that I’ve had “real” kale, I’m never going back to the other stuff. Wikipedia lists several different types of kale, including one that is probably the type that I cooked with the fish. This one has names like “dinosaur kale” (a name also mentioned by Seeds of Change) that is popular with Farmer E’s neighbors, as well as cavalo nero (Italian for “black cabbage”) and “Tuscan kale,” which both jibe with the name of the variety he and Alison grow.

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  6. One liver per fish, although it may be lobed. The other possibility is that the Wolf was a He and those were milt-sacs…herring milt on toast is a famous British (probably more Scottish) breakfast dish. I’ve had it, and it’s creamy rich, like a fishy cheese.

    Re: further discussion of kale: Johnny’s Selected Seeds (our local glossy seed catalog in Maine) offers a few different kinds, including the decorative varieties that are often found in sidewalk planters or used to garnish serving platters and appetizer trays — for eating, they’re not so good: very tough raw, requiring long cooking but without offering the kind of flavor of other kales. They also offer “Toscano” which it verifies as oleracea, and calls it “Lacinato or ‘dinosaur’ type” in their description. Their Red Russian kale is listed as Brassica napus pabularia and can get tough if left to grow big, but when very young are tender enough to be mixed with salad greens to provide a little punch. They also carry a hybrid variety called Winterbor (Brassica oleracea) which has a picture that looks very much like a palmetto — perhaps this is closer to the Turkish farmer’s type?

    Also, I grow beautiful, hole-less kale in my hoophouse — the holes in your kale sound like the result of flea beetle damage (they love brassicas), and any phyisical barrier (such as Remay spun poly covers, or greenhouse plastic) can protect one’s organic kale from looking like that. Don’t blame the leaf condition on “organic” practices — there are organic options.

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