When I look back on my first months in Italy, I see a blur of excitement, fear, romance, confusion… and food. My diaries from those days are filled with the hopes and angst of any 20-year-old, stories of adventures and drama… and the scribbled menus of memorable meals. Italy awaked my senses in a way that I never expected. I still remember, with a twinge of nostalgia, my first bite of focaccia, warm from the bakery’s oven, eaten with greasy fingers while sitting on a park bench in Genoa. I remember what I was wearing, the smell of the air, the pigeons impatiently eyeing my crumbs.
I know my experience is not unique, as demonstrated by countless novels and movies that evoke the power of food as a door to self-discovery. I was most recently reminded of my first, tender, food-filled days in Europe by the film Paris Can Wait, coming to Italian theaters on June 15th. The protagonist is a middle-aged American woman who embarks on an unexpected culinary adventure through the French countryside, reawakening her senses while rediscovering food, wine and romance. While her adventure takes place in a different time of life than mine, the sense of wonder and the thrill of discovery is the same.
I was inspired by the film to try my hand at some French recipes. I’m not as comfortable with preparing French cuisine as I am with Italian, but I was immediately attracted to this recipe. The butter-and-cream-based tarragon sauce is a delicious accompaniment to the simply-prepared red mullet. The recipe is not difficult to make yet the results are delicious, and different from what I normally prepare at home. It’s like embarking on a miniature adventure across the French countryside, without leaving the kitchen.
Red Mullet, Potatoes, Tarragon Sauce
- 8 small red mullet filet, about 1 ½ pounds
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground white pepper
- 16 new potatoes, peeled
- 1 small bunch fresh tarragon
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 medium shallot, sliced thinly
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 cup fish fumet (stock)
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Trim the edges of the fish of any bones, fins or excess skin. Salt and pepper lightly. Reserve on a plate in the refrigerator until ready to cook.
Bring a 4-quart pot of water to a boil. Add 3 tablespoons of salt and then the potatoes. Cook for 10-12 minutes until potatoes are just tender. Remove potatoes with a slotted spoon to an ice bath to stop them from cooking. Let the potatoes rest in the ice bath for 5 minutes then remove with a slotted spoon to a clean dish towel to drain dry. When dry place in a bowl and wrap with plastic to keep potatoes from drying out.
Set aside 8 nice sprigs of tarragon for the garnish. Pick about 10 leaves off another sprig of tarragon and chop finely; reserve the chopped tarragon in a small dish to add to the sauce at the end. The remainder of the bunch of tarragon will be used for the sauce.
For the sauce
Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. When the butter bubbles add the shallot and cook until the shallot is soft. Add the white wine and reduce until pan is almost dry. Add the fish fumet, cream and the bunch of tarragon. Reduce by half.
Strain the sauce and whisk in 2 tablespoons of butter, season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep covered and warm while you cook the fish and potatoes.
Heat a medium sauté pan over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and melt. When the butter begins to bubble, add the potatoes and cook in the butter, rolling constantly so they are hot but not brown. When potatoes are warmed through, turn off heat and keep warm in pan while you cook the fish.
For the fish
Heat a 12 inch saute pan over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan. When the butter starts to brown add the olive oil.
Add the fish skin-side down and cook until the skin is crisp and the edges of the fish are white, about 2-3 minutes. Gently turn over with a fish spatula and cook for 1 minute on the other side.
Ready 4 plates. Place 2 filets of fish on each plate. Place 4 potatoes on each plate. Fold the chopped tarragon into the sauce and spoon lightly over fish and potatoes. Garnish with tarragon sprigs.