I have been thinking of sauces somewhat of late. I used to cook a lot more with a French influence, mainly thanks to the simply incredible book French Provincial Cooking, by Elizabeth David. This book is a complete classic. No pictures, and it can be a nightmare to cook from, especially if you are a new cook. Saying that however, this is the book that I really started cooking from. She is so descriptive with her prose that there is honestly no picture that could do the recipes in here justice. She seems like a colorful character, extremely blunt and to the point, with a huge passion and love of French cooking, history, and the people of such an amazing country. This is honestly a cookbook that everyone should have. We aren’t talking haute cuisine here at all – this is basic French food, with tons of character. Everything however is about technique. It was this book that really made me focus on getting things perfect, and not ever sitting back – always pushing forwards, experimenting, and trying to perfect a dish.
So, back to sauces. I tend not to do that many these days. I think the first sauce I ever made was a Béchamel – and it turned out completely bollocks. It was as lumpy as a hell, and just plain nasty. Dearie (the nickname for my mother) was a big help, and within a few goes I had things corrected. It was really just about attention, and careful heat control.
This weekend we decided to celebrate Danika’s parents anniversary. We were celebrating it late. We had completely forgotten about it. Doh. Not like Danika at all (by very like me.. mind like sieve). To make things up, I want to cook something a little special, but also get them eating something that they didn’t particularly like before – mussels!
A couple of years ago I cooked Moules Marinieres, the classic French way of presenting mussels, and my particular favorite. They were non-fussed to say the least. Not quite them. Ever since then their lack of any kind of love for mussels has eaten away at me a bit, so I decided to fix things with this dish.
What the heck you say – there is only one bloody mussel on the plate! Even the most hardened of mussel haters could down that… Well, the sauce is mussel based, and there was a big bowl of mussels on the side – the main ingredients in the veloute.
The mussel veloute is a heady mixture of white wine, mussels, saffron and shallots – the liquor of which is thickened with a roux.
Back to the sauce – what this dish is really all about. A velouté is really very similar to a Béchamel – but instead of using milk as the liquid, you use a light stock or cooking liquid.
In this case I gently sauteed some shallots in a little olive oil. In the mean time I had some saffron infusing some white wine. This got tipped into the pan, reduced slightly, then the mussels added. Give this a few minutes with the lid on, and your mussels are cooked. The liquid that is left (the liquor) gets strained, and used as the basis for the sauce velouté.
Of course, you need to eat something to go with a sauce. I wanted to push the seafood even further, so I pan roasted some really great halibut from Mutual Fish. To go with this is some freshly podded fava beens and peas, and some lovely watercress. I was really after some pea shoots, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. Bugger.
“WOW, I never liked mussels before, but I LOVE these – especially when dipped in the sauce”
(I am starting to love these big speech mark things)
To be honest, I was a little worried when I tasted the sauce. I absolutely loved it, but I wasn’t sure if Danika’s parents would like it – it really did taste of the sea – which all good mussels should taste of. There was a great aromatic quality to it as well, brought about by the saffron and white wine.
Other developments this weekend? Drake learnt how to do a mean air guitar, and also give a great cheers with his sippy-cup!
So without further ado, here you are:
Halibut, saffron-mussel liquor velouté, fava beans, watercress and fresh peas (serves 4)
1 3/4lb of fresh halibut fillets – cut into 4 pieces, skin removed
30 mussels – preferably Penn Cove
1 cup of dry white wine
1 splash of the same white wine (for the peas)
1 handful of watercress – thick stems removed
1 really good pinch of saffron
4 good handfuls of fava beans, in their pods
2 good handfuls of English peas, in their pods
1 small handful of flat leaf parsley – coarsely chopped
2 shallots, sliced
1 clove of garlic, sliced
1 small handful of chives – finely chopped, but 8 chive sprigs left of presentation
Preheat oven to 375F
Start by shelling the fava beans and peas. If you have guests that want to help, get them to do this – pretty hard to screw up!
Clean and de-beard the mussels. To do this, take a stiff brush or dish sratchy pad thing (you know, those blue sponge pad things), and scrub the mussel shell to get rid of all the caked on gunk. If it has what looks like a beard sticking out of the shell, give it a good tug, pulling it outwards and towards the hinge of the shell. It should come out pretty easily. Discard and mussels which have broken shells, or are open and don’t close up when you tap them. Keep these cool.
Put the saffron in the wine, and let stand for at least 15 minutes to infuse.
Prepare an ice bath. Get a pan of water boiling, and toss in the fava beans. Cook them for a couple of minutes, then plunge them into the ice bath. When the are cooled right down, carefully squeeze out the inner bean from their skins. I find this works best by puncturing the skin with my nail, then gently squeezing the bean out of the hole.
In a large saute pan, heat a little olive oil. Add in the shallots, and gently cook until almost soft. Add the garlic. Cook for a couple more minutes. Crank up the heat to high, and add the white wine with the saffron in. Let the alcohol burn off, then gently add the mussels. Mix up a little, and put the lid on. These should only take about 3 minutes to steam open. After 3 minutes, check on them. If they haven’t opened, give them a couple more minutes.
When they are opened up, they are cooked. Take the mussels out of the pan, and put them in a covered dish to keep warm. Strain the liquid in the pan through a really fine mesh sieve, keeping the liquid and discarding the solids.
Lets start cooking the halibut. Get a large non-stick pan hot oven a medium-high heat. Add a little butter and olive oil, and when hot put the halibut fillets in, flesh side down (or what would be flesh side down – since the skin is removed). Let this cook for about 5 minutes – until nicely browned. Flip these over, and put them in an oven proof dish. If you need to slow things down a bit, don’t put the fish in the oven straight away. It is far better for it to sit in this state (part cooked) for a few minutes, rather than letting it dry out later on when fully cooked.
Put the halibut in the pre-heated oven for about another 7 minutes or so – until the fish is cooked through, and flakes easily with a fork.
When the halibut is in the oven, get a medium pan hot oven a medium heat. Add a knob of butter, and when melted add the peas (but not the fava beans). Let these cook for a couple of minutes, then add a splash of white wine. Add in the fava beans, watercress, a pinch of salt and the parsley. Keep this over a low heat to stay warm.
Lets work on the sauce veloute now. In a small saucepan melt about 1/2 tablespoon of butter over a low heat. Remove from the flame, and add in about 1 teaspoon of flour. Thoroughly combine with the butter. We want to form a thick paste here. Add more flour if required (most likely). If it ends up too thick and cakey, add a little more butter. Let this cook for a couple of minutes. Add 1/3 of the mussel liquid to the pan, and put it back over the heat. Using a whisk, stir the sauce vigorously. You need to keep this sauce moving otherwise it will quickly form lumps – and trust me, from my experience with a bechemel sauce – these aren’t easy to remove! When this has thickened slightly, add the rest of the mussel liquid. Keep the sauce moving with the whisk, until it has thickened again. Finally add in the chopped chives.
Done! To plate:
Spoon a little of the fava/pea mixture in the center of a plate. Top with a piece of halibut, fresh from the oven. Spoon around a little of the sauce. Lay a couple of sprigs of chive on the halibut, and top with a single mussel.
Serve this with some crusty bread, and the rest of the mussels. The bread goes great in the sauce.