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Getting Schooled in Fish

(post, John Dryzga)

Saturday was the first of two classes in all aspects of piscine knowledge.  Chef Nic had barley started his lecture when Chef Xavier(infamous at the FCI) popped his head into our kitchen.  "Chef, one of the students has cut himself bad enough to go to the hospital.  Do you know where the taxi money is?" said Chef X.  An audible gasp went up through out my class.  After Chef Nic helped out getting the student off to the hospital(He ended up being fine.  Three stitches and came back to class), he reiterated how important being safe in the kitchen is.  I'm pretty sure everyone paid attention.  It didn't prevent my trip to the first aid cabinet later in the class, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Chef Nic picked up the fish lecture where he left off, talking about the different types of fish, how to determine the freshness of a fish and how to clean the things.  He first demoed how to fillet a round fish by butchering a striped bass.  It was soon our chance to do the same, and boy did I butcher the poor fish.  I was able to remove the fillets OK, but I had trouble removing the skin.  When I finally managed to denude the fillets, I had very little fillet left.  Luckily, for the dish we were preparing, a small fillet would work out fine.

The first preparation we tackled was poisson en papillote, fish cooked in paper.  A fish fillet is sealed in some parchment paper along with some aromatics and some white wine.  The wine and the cooking juices mingle to make quite a flavorful dish.  This dish is usually served in the paper at the table and the diner opens the package himself.  The diner gets a nose full of wonderful aroma before they dig in.  

As in most of the recipes in this class, this dish had many working parts.  A tomato fondue had to be made, along with mushroom duxelles, julienned carrots, leeks and celery.  I had my work cut out for me.  And I did cut out a piece of me.  In my battle with the striped bass skin, I took a knife to one of my finger tips.  It wasn't a bad cut, but bleeding into your food is usually frowned upon.  I made my way to the back of the kitchen to the first aid cabinet.  It contained every shape and sized band aid made.  I finally found the correct one a picked out a cot, basically a finger without a glove, to keep the band aid dry.  Injury time out over, it was back to the trenches.

This recipe was very time consuming,  I was working by myself again this week, and it was proving to be a bad thing.  I did get some help from some of my classmates, and that made getting this done possible.  I had to work through lunch to get this done, but I did complete.  I constructed my papillote and popped them in the oven.  It then hit my like a ton of bricks, I forgot to season the fish.  With the tomato fondue, the mushrooms and all those julienned vegetables, which were seasoned, I hoped that chef wouldn't notice.  When they were done cooking, I brought one up to the chef.  He liked all the veg and of course he knew the fish was under seasoned!  I should have known he would have picked it up.

The next dish was sole au bon femme, poached sole served in a cream  sauce.  Fillet the sole went much better.  I was able to master the skinning of the fillets this time around.  A slight change in technique made all the difference.   The fillets were poached in white wine, fish stock, shallots and mushrooms.  When the fish is just about done, it is removed and the poaching liquid is reduced.  Some heavy cream that was reduced by half is then added to the poaching liquid and that is reduced.  A dollop of whipped heavy cream is added and the sauce is spooned over the sole fillets.  This is then put under a salamander to give the sauce a nice browning.   The browning added a really nice extra layer of flavor to the dish, which was delicious.  Chef Nic gave me the thumbs up on this one, I didn't forget to season anything this time.