I recently attended a cooking class with my kawan, CB at a newly refurbished cooking school in the Montmartre area. Chef Patrick hails from Normandie and has lived in the USA for 30 years where he had a French restaurant in Louisiana.
The class started at 5 pm outside a metro station near the school where we were instructed to rendezvous with man wheeling a green shopping trolley. Well, we eventually found him surrounded by our bunch of friends who were also there to learn how to cook. Let’s just say his trolley wasn’t exactly green!
Before cooking, we had to find our ingredients. Chef Patrick took us down a typical French cobbled street where the marchands, fromageries, boucheries and poissoneries are located.
Being from Normandie, the chef really knew his fish. We all opted for fish that night, because it came with a promise of learning to filet and skin the fish. We were advised to purchase the dorade and a type of flat fish akin to the sole. Unfortunately, my old brain does not want to recall the name of this flat fish. Tolong, kawan kawan, really sorry! But Chef did say that the sole was the best flat fish to buy in terms of filleting because there will be less wastage.
So with this new information in mind, I thought I’d cook la famille a fish dinner.
I found myself at a poissonerie in the 16th near the International school where RN attends the Pre-K. Monsieur Poissonnier advised a bar (seabass) for the dish that I wanted to prepare. I asked him to filet it because the bar was a huge one and I figured I couldn’t and wouldn’t, even if I wanted to try, be able to filet it myself. I lacked knives, courage and time. At the same time, I added 10 raw prawns and 8 cooked crevettes roses.
Kawan kawan, this was the most expensive fish I’ve ever bought. I won’t even begin to tell you the price, it was so abominable! Let’s just say that the figure would feed a family of 4 for a week. Psssst! don’t tell the Italian, though!
Well, after paying the hefty price, I really was under a lot of pressure to make a dinner fit for royalty. So, I decided to do what Chef Patrick did, pan fry the seabass filets dans la poêle with olive oil. This was easy enough to do. I skipped the butter because to be honest, I don’t like to cook with butter too much. I wanted the fish to taste of fish, to keep its purity. In Chinese, we have a word for this – ceng – (pronounced cheng) which means clean, clear, pure. However, a gifted cook told me that butter helps to brown the fish and meat better.
Nonetheless, I skipped the butter and the fish did brown anyway. Here, take a look:
I salted the filets first before pan frying them with some fleur de sel. This was set to give the fish a better aroma. Then I slid them into the pan gently as soon as the pan started to smoke. This smoking of the pan is important because it means that your oil is hot enough for browning without causing the fish or meat to adhere to your cooking utensil. Because the filets were rather thick, I fried them for at least 3-4 minutes on each side. I had to check that the filets were cooked and I did this by seeing if the flesh in the middle would yield to my wooden fish spatula. If the flesh breaks a little, then it is done.
I tend to cook fish whole, baked or steamed. I can tell from their eyes whether the whole fish is cooked. This is learnt from my mom who had learnt it from hers. She told me that the whites of the fish has to become opaque before the fish is done. But with filets, I had no eyes to judge by! Chef Patrick shared this tip that I have described above and now I am sharing it with you, kawan kawan.
Speaking of eyes, I should have known that there was something fishy about the fishmonger that day when he tried to sell me this bar – he couldn’t look me in the eye. Then I noticed that he was cross-eyed! Poor man. Mais, tant pis!
Nevermind, I just won’t go back there again. Lesson learnt and cooked. Here’s the dish:
I drizzled some soya over the fish with a squeeze of lime. This mélange of liquids combined nicely with the water from the blanched spinach to create a sauce.
The prawns were marinaded with soya sauce, sesame oil, shoashing wine and coriander, then sautéed with a little garlic and set aside. I sliced two courgettes width wise so that they came out round and proceeded to stir fry these with minced garlic. Then when the courgettes were done, I added the prawns, both the ready cooked ones and the ones that I’d sautéed earlier. This is how it looks:
kawan kawan, here ends my fishy tale. Remember this: when a fishmonger does not look you in the eye when attempting to sell you les poissons, he must either be cross-eyed or trying to make a fast buck from an unsuspecting étranger.