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Poached fish with mussel and mushroom sauce February 3, 2010

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Fish, Seafood, Wolfe recipe.
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This recipe is a variation of the one that Fritz serves at a dinner party which he cooks for, and Nero Wolfe and Archie are both guests – and where a dinner guest is murdered (Poison a la Carte in Three at Wolfe’s Door). Indeed, it was this recipe that Fritz was concentrating on when the murderer was slipping poison into an earlier course.

The recipe in The Nero Wolfe Cookbook calls for flounder. My fishmonger doesn’t usually stock flounder, so I chose to use flathead tails instead – although I think any white fish would do, depending on how many people you were cooking for. The first step was to prepare the poaching liquid for the fish. As I was using fish fillets, I added some fish stock to the liquid to make up for the lack of flounder head and bones the recipe in the Cookbook lists.

As well as fish stock, I added celery, onion, parsley, peppercorns, bay leaves, and white wine.

This had to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes so while it was simmering I got to work preparing the mussels for the sauce.

Mussels and I have a long history. Back when H and I were both poor students, we’d get a kilo of mussels from the market for $7 and cook them up in some white wine and veggies, as our fancy weekend dinner. Mussels are a lot cheaper than many other forms of seafood but are still highly versatile and can be paired with many different flavours. For this recipe I got just under a kilo of mussels – more than the recipe requires, but in my opinion there’s no such thing as too many mussels!

If you have never cleaned mussels before, this is how you do it: first, briefly soak the mussels in cold water to remove any sand and grit, and scrub down the outside of each shell with a stiff brush to remove as much of the outside grime as you can – don’t worry if you can’t get it all off. Discard any that have obviously broken shells. Next, take each mussel and locate the beard (the hairy bit sticking out on the side of the shell). You can just snip the beard off with some scissors but with some practice it’s easier and quicker to give the beard a sharp pull towards the hinge, and it will come off. Here’s my cleaned mussels and their beards!

By this time, the poaching liquid was ready. I strained it to make a clear liquid, and put the fish and liquid into an oven-safe frying pan (the recipe says to use a shallow baking dish, and this was my closest equivalent). The fish was then cooked on 180 degrees for about 10 minutes.

Once the fish was in the oven, I prepared the liquid for the mussels to cook in: water, onion, parsley and thyme. When it was boiling, I added the mussels. They cooked very quickly – their shells began to open after 3 or 4 minutes. Here’s an action shot of the mussels cooking:

OK that’s the last photos of mussels for this entry, I promise! When the mussels were cooked, I let them cool for a bit and then opened them, discarding any which hadn’t opened. The recipe instructs to chop the mussels before adding them to the sauce; however, I skipped this step again working under the premise that more (and bigger) mussels was better!

Meanwhile, I chopped up some mushrooms, about 1/2 cup, and cooked them in some butter. By this time, the fish had finished cooking, so I turned off the oven but left the fish in there to keep it warm.

I made a roux out of more butter and flour, and added some of the water the mussels cooked in until it had the consistency of cream. Then I added the cooked mushrooms, the mussels, parsley and salt and pepper.

After this had cooked for a little bit, it was time to serve. I took the fish out of the oven, added some sauce, and served.

This meal truly was delicious. While the fish was very nice, having been poached in a nice, delicate liquid, this meal for me was all about the sauce. It had a creamy feel – although it didn’t have any milk or cream in it – and the mussels and the mushrooms blended well. The parsley gave it a nice touch of freshness and brightness and provided some contrast to the creaminess of the sauce.

I think this recipe could be made easily with any other white fish and I’m sorely tempted to make the sauce on its own –  maybe I could call it a soup?! At any rate, this dish gives me more sympathy for Fritz, as this sauce is definitely distracting and I doubt I’d see a poisoner at work if I was involved in this dish!

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