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Fillets of John Dory fish, poached in fish stock, carrots, turnips and courgettes

lundi 6 avril 2020, par rigas

This is a not too complicated receipe, bur really nice. This fish is an exceptional fich (translation of the French original text).

Fillets of John Dory fish.poached in fish stock, carrots, turnips and courgettes

In Greek, this fish (biological name Zeus faber, just imagine !) is called χριστόψαρο, which means fish of Christ. The legend has it that Saint Peter caught this fish and gave it to Jesus who left his fingerprints on it, which explains the two black spots on each side. Or that St. Peter picked it up and threw it back into the sea... St. Peter is said to be the saint of fishermen in some countries. One of many mythical explanations. There are many others, equally mythological and Christian. In English it is called a "John Dory" and the onomastic is even more complicated and well documented on the English Wikipedia.
Its biology is interesting : it is a fish belonging to a family, the Zeidae, of primitive fishes, hence the thick shape of its skeleton and the imposing size of its jaws. Alan Davidson in his book on Mediterranean fish (Mediterranean Seeafood) writes that St. Peter’s has the same relationship, in its form, with more sophisticated fish, such as a sea bream, as an early car has with a machine today ! The Consul (Davidson was British Consul in Cairo) was writing in the early sixties when cars still were an object of desire. The fact is that the John Dory has an extraordinary look, well rendered by this artist (Anne-Sophie Bonno).

I find that the unique taste of the John Dory is similar to that of real rock red mullets in Greece, when they are small and really come from the sea waters where the usual limestone rocks of the Mediterranean Sea bathe, a taste that I have never found elsewhere than in Greece and that I can no longer find so easily (even in Greece). Maybe that Anthropocene red mullets will taste less than their Holocene parents !

Ingredients (serves 4-5) :

  • 1 St. Peter about 1.5 kg (or two small ...)

Lift the fish fillets, keeping the skin on. Ask to keep the head, skeleton and bones of the fish.

for the broth

To do with the leftover fish

  • 2-3 bay leaves (be careful not to use thyme, oregano, or any of those spices with a dominant taste).
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds
  • salt, pepper

For the cooking juice

  • 5-6 carrots
  • 3-4 small turnips
  • 6 shallots
  • fresh spring onions
  • the juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 glass of white wine
  • dill, a few whole sprigs
  • -* Salt and pepper

<I’m gonna have to go to the center.

For the fish, after cooking :

  • some finely chopped dill.
  • some finely chopped parsley (but not fresh coriander, too marked and dissonant with the St-Pierre)
  • 1 small lime to zest its skin (just a little, for that fresh and slightly "sideways" taste).

Preparation :

[The broth]
Keep all the white rests of the fish, the bones, the squeleton and its ENORMOUS head ! (i.e. everything except the intestines, the gills, in short everything red). It makes a delicious broth ! Cover with water, salt, coriander seeds, a few bay leaves and a few cloves. The idea is to keep as much as possible of this totally exceptional taste of the John Dory and the broth helps to sublimate its taste.
Bring to a boil, taking care to always have enough water. I do this the day before , but if you do everything the same day, count about an hour cooking time. Once the broth is finished, strain through a sieve and set aside. We will only use this broth to cook the fish, without ever adding water.

Before cooking the juice and fish
I take out the fish fillets and sprinkle them with a lemon (no more than half an hour).

[Accompaniment]

Courrgettes (Zucchinis) : small courgettes (zucchini), like those in Greece and the south of France. Boil them slightly not too soft (a quarter of an hour maximum, it depends on their size). They will be eaten as an accompaniment to the fish fillet, with just salt, parsley and olive oil. Here too, these small zucchinis have a taste that goes well with fish in general and even better with Saint-Pierre.
Carrots : Cut the thin parts of the carrots (or the finest carrots) into sticks ; I keep the larger ends of the carrots, cut into thin slices, aside for my cooking juices.
Turnips : peel, slice or cut into small pieces, and cook (a little) the turnips in water (not steam) ! It takes 10 minutes to cook. These pieces of turnip and the sliced carrots are used for the cooking of the fish.
Carrot sticks : Cook (steam or boil) but not too much. They will go very well with fish to taste and color.

The cooking sauce

At the bottom of a large thick-bottomed saucepan, fry the shallots and fresh onions in oil over a rather low heat. We wet with a glass of white wine, the lemon juice, and the water of the fish stock, we add the slices of carrots and turnips, salt and pepper, two whole sprigs of dill ; we let evaporate while mixing and being careful not to burn the bottom ! We lengthen this juice by adding a ladle of stock from time to time.

Cooking the fish
That’s comes the big moment arrived :

We put the fillets, skin side down, in the bottom of the pan. Without turning over, we sprinkle the juice from time to time. Low heat ... low ... low ... low ... not more than 20 minutes (if the fillets are thick) and much less if the fillets are thin !

You can cover too if you don’t want to have to watch... but it’s so beautiful to see, the beautiful fillets that turn white. If the fish is fresh, the flesh is a little firm, and it’s a pure delight.

Serve with zucchini, carrot sticks, and a side of rice (I made a basmati rice baked and flavoured with dill), sprinkled with finely chopped parsley, dill sprigs and lime zest.


This is accompanied by a dry white wine !
Moreover, the Italians make a "Pesce galo al Marsala", this Italian mutated wine from Sicily (like a liqueur but a dry wine) very popular (for example in the famous Scalopine al Marsala) ; their recipe is a bit like the one I just invented.

Below is a picture of the mixture I add to the baked basmati rice following the recipe from the Ottolenghi book (thanks Elsa !). The mixture is crushed cashew nuts, fresh hand pressed pomegranate juice, small pomegranate seeds (it’s called pomegranate arils), two tablespoons of olive oil, green olives, no garlic - so as not to alter the taste of the fish.