I was very pleased to receive Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen as a gift a couple of years ago. I haven’t seen any of the TV programmes on which this book is based but I have very much enjoyed reading the recipes, exclaiming over how pretty she is and coveting her vintage yet chic vibe. It’s probably a good thing that I haven’t seen her in action as I would probably be totally besotted. Her cooking is French classic with a modern twist; simple yet flavourful and I have bookmarked quite a few of her recipes to try.
This recipe for a Gratin au Poisson Fumé or Smoky Fish Bake came highly recommended by my friend C who gave me the book and rightly so. Rachel Khoo’s method of making béchamel is genius – taking the roux off the heat before adding the milk has resulted in a lump-free sauce every single time.
My only protest would be at the meagre quantity of fish – it is my opinion that 200g to feed up to 6 people is so stingy as to border on the penurious. At the weekend, we were 4 for lunch and I used 320g of smoked haddock fillets and 240g of lightly smoked salmon plus about 18og of raw prawns/shrimps (but these are full of water and cook down to nothing really) and there was perhaps a small serving spoonful left in the dish at the end of the meal. Normally, I buy a 320g Fish Pie Mix from Sainsbury’s (my Local didn’t have any so I had to improvise with the fillets), but even then I tend to add an extra couple of salmon fillets and a packet of prawns to the mix. The thought of under-catering makes me feel quite anxious!
This is a lovely dish, comforting but not heavy in the way a fish pie can be and full of those deeply savoury, smoky fish flavours which marry so well with creamy sauces. A spoonful of grain mustard is also nice stirred into the béchamel while it cools as is a little chopped tarragon. You can also prepare it ahead so that all you have to do is pop it in the oven when your guests arrive. We had the gratin with roasted beetroot and a green salad using the delicious produce from my Sutton Community Farm veg box. Rachel suggests that leftover vegetables from a roast dinner can be added to the béchamel too, but I like to keep it simple with the fish and potatoes and usually serve it with a bowl of peas and a green salad.
I have to apologise for my rather uninspiring photo of the finished dish. I had two ravenous teenagers as well as my friend J round and I don’t think any of them would have been able to contain themselves while I got arty with food styling. I managed to get a quick shot of it when it came out of the oven and that’s it. There wasn’t even enough leftover for me to style a plate but rather than not post it at all, I had to share as this is such a delicious recipe!
Put the potatoes on to boil
Make the bechamel
Mix the fish, parsley and potatoes into the béchamel, then pour into an oven safe baking dish, scatter over the cheese and tomatoes and bake.
Gratin au Poisson Fumé (Smoky Fish Bake)
from The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo
- 750g (8-10 medium ones) potatoes, peeled and already cooked – you can use left over roast potatoes (if such a thing exists!)
- 200g smoked haddock, skin removed (I used 320g smoked haddock; 240g lightly smoked salmon fillets; 180g raw prawns/shrimps) or use a pack of 320g fish pie mix and a couple of salmon fillets
- a handful of chopped parsley
- a handful of grated cheese – use up odds and ends of cheeses like Mature Cheddar, Comté, Gruyere or Parmesan
- a small handful of halved cherry tomatoes – my addition to the recipe
- 30 g butter
- 30g flour
- 500 ml milk (lukewarm – 2 mins in the microwave worked for me)
- bay leaf
- ½ an onion (I used a shallot)
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 1 clove (didn’t use)
- If you don’t have any cooked potatoes, peel the appropriate amount and cut into thirds. Place in a saucepan of cold, salted water with a couple of bay leaves. Cover and set on the hob. Turn on the heat and set a timer for 20 minutes. They should be cooked enough by then – enough to get a knife through but not falling apart. They will continue to cook in the oven. When the pan comes to a boil, turn down the heat to low and set the lid askew. Drain in a colander and set aside.
- While the potatoes are cooking, you can start the béchamel. Melt the butter in a large saucepan (because you are going to add the fish and potatoes to the béchamel before turning it all out into a dish) over medium heat. Add the flour and beat well until you have a smooth paste. Take off the heat and leave to cool for a couple of minutes.
- Gradually add the warm milk, whisking constantly. Place the pan back on a medium heat and add the onion, clove and bay leaf. Simmer for 10 minutes whisking frequently. If sauce becomes too thick, whisk in a little more milk. Finish sauce by removing the onion, clove and bay leaf; stir in the nutmeg and season with a little salt and some white pepper (or black if you are not bothered by the dark specks) Leave to cool slightly. (If you are making this ahead, let the béchamel cool completely)
- Pre-heat oven to 180 C/ 350 F, unless you are making this ahead.
- While the béchamel is cooking and cooling, I skin and slice up the fish fillets into 1 inch cubes; slice the potatoes into 1 cm rounds; grate the cheese; halve the cherry tomatoes and chop the parsley.
- Add the chunks of fish and the prawns to the béchamel and mix gently. Add the potatoes and most of the parsley (reserve a little to sprinkle on at the end) and mix again.
- Pour into an oven safe baking dish, scatter over the cherry tomatoes and the grated cheese. At this point, as long as the béchamel is cool/cold, you can loosely cover the dish with cling film and pop it in the fridge until you are ready to cook.
- This mix does bubble up as it cooks so if your dish is very full, place it on a baking tray to save having to clean the oven later.
- Cook for 25 minutes (35 minutes if fridge cold) or until the top is golden and sauce is bubbling.
- Scatter over the reserved parsley and serve after the dish has had 10 minutes or so to settle.
- Great with a bowl of peas and a green salad.
Steaming fillets of delicate white fish in a paper parcel is such a quick and easy way to cook them and this recipe for Steamed Sea Bream al Cartoccio is no exception. The most difficult thing was making sure that the top of the parcel was well sealed! I got distracted after I had made the parcel (my friend had arrived and the first glass of wine had been poured…) and forgot to take a photo but you can see what the sealed parcel should look like here. We had this with the Roasted Fennel and Cannellini Bean Puree which I posted yesterday and a green salad with a sharp mustardy dressing (salt, pepper, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, 1 tsp cider vinegar and 3 tsp EVOO)
A local Italian restaurant serves a seafood linguine al cartoccio and it is very easy to do as long as you undercook the pasta before it is parcelled.
Lay out the bream fillets on the prepared foil and parchment paper and season with salt, pepper and rosemary
Add the garlic, a little oil and butter before folding up into a parcel
As far as flavours go, you could use tarragon instead of rosemary and a little sprinkle of crushed toasted coriander seeds would also be lovely. A little infused saffron would be delicious with rosemary and a mix of seafood. You could use other types of fish and seafood too but you may need more liquid and a little longer cooking time if the fish is thick. If you are making these for more than two people or for a dinner party (and this is a fantastic template for a dinner party recipe as you can prepare the parcels beforehand and then cook them 10 minutes before you want to eat) then, parcel up the fish individually.
Steamed Sea Bream al Cartoccio
- 2 fillets of sea bream or other white fish
- 3 or 4 cloves of Garlic Confit or roasted garlic – don’t use raw garlic as the flavour will be overpowering.
- 1 tsp of the garlic flavoured oil if you are using garlic confit – optional
- A few sprigs of rosemary
- 1 tsp butter
- 3 Tbsp dry white wine
- Lemon wedges to serve
You will also need 60cm pieces of foil and parchment paper to make the parcel
- Pre-heat oven to 220C/425F. Put a roasting tray or sheet in to pre heat as well.
- Make the cartoccio by placing the foil on the worktop, shiny side down. Lay the parchment paper on top and turn over the edges to seal the two together.
- Lay the fish fillets in the middle of the paper.
- Season fillets with salt and pepper, scatter over the rosemary needles and garlic. Drizzle the garlic flavoured oil over the fish and top with the butter.
- Bring the short ends of the paper together over the top of the fillets and roll/fold up as tightly as you can manage so that steam cannot escape. There shouldn’t be too much space inside the parcel so make it as small as you can without crushing the fillets.
- Then, fold up one of the sides, again, as tightly as you can. Press down on the foil to help seal it.
- Tip up the open parcel slightly and pour in the wine. Seal this side tightly as well. You should have a small domed parcel that is a little larger than the fish inside.
- Place the parcel on the pre-heated tin and cook for 10 minutes. Let it sit for a couple of minutes before opening the parcel.
- The wine, oil and butter will have combined to make a small amount of delicious sauce that should be spooned over the fish when you serve it.
- Serve with lemon wedges.
Delicious with Roasted Fennel and Cannellini Bean Puree and a green salad with a sharp dressing.
I see from my notes that I have been making this Smoked Mackerel Gratin for nearly 10 years now. I first made it because I wanted to introduce more of those Omega-3 fatty acids into our diet and it was such a hit with J who would have been 6 years old at that time, that I have been making it regularly ever since. Smoked fish and cream is a food marriage made in heaven. With the addition of potatoes, mustard and herbs this dish becomes a quick, intensely savoury, mid-week meal which only needs a sharply dressed green salad, cutting through the richness, to round it off.
It is an inexpensive dish to boot and very easy to make;
Flake the fish into an oven proof dish
Cover with cooked potatoes
- Make the creamy, mustardy, herb flecked sauce
- Pour sauce over fish and potatoes
Strew with grated cheddar and bake for 20/25 minutes
Intensely savoury, smoky, and creamy deliciousness.
You could add a scattering of halved cherry tomatoes before covering it with cheese and you could also add a layer of fresh spinach leaves (which you have run under a tap to make wet) under the fish in which case you should increase the milk by about a 1/4 cup.
The smoked mackerel is quite salty as is the cheese so you shouldn’t need any additional salt.
Smoked Mackerel Gratin
Inspired by Nigel Slater
- 4 smoked mackerel fillets
- 8 small potatoes halved
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 Tbsp crème fraîche
- 1 heaped tsp grain mustard
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 tsp chopped tarragon
- 1 Tbsp chopped parsley
- 50g grated cheddar cheese
- A little butter or oil to grease the oven proof dish.
- Preheat the oven to 200C/390F and lightly grease the oven proof dish.
- Place potatoes and garlic in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil then simmer for 10 minutes. The potatoes should give way to a knife but not be falling apart. Drain and remove the garlic.
- Peel off the skin and flake the mackerel into the dish, carefully pulling out any bones which have been left behind. Leave the fish in quite large chunks if you can.
- Whisk the creme fraiche then stir in the mustard and whisk again. Mash in the soft garlic and slowly whisk in the milk and stir in the herbs.
- Cover the fish with the hot potatoes, then pour over the crème fraîche mixture and top with the grated cheese and a grinding of pepper.
- Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes
Serve with a mustardy dressed green salad and some crusty bread to soak up the delicious juices.