Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Take One

This weekend Nick and I decided that we we should try to make something from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child that Uncle David and Auntie Wendy gave me for Christmas.  I love this book.  It feels great in my hands, smells like a new book, and there are cool dictionary-style drawings in it.  After reading Julie and Julia by Julie Powell I knew that it would be a lot of work to start experimenting with French food.  Nick and I figured that since we enjoy French bistros a lot but can't always afford to go to them, that we would try to start making the food ourselves.  Now I know why it's expensive.  It's a lot of work.  It's not that the techniques are difficult or that the recipes are that complicated, it just takes a long time.  Well, let me restate, the recipes are complicated, but not because of the techniques, but because it sends you all over the book looking for various minor recipes.  If you want to do fish in white wine sauce with mushrooms (our dish) you have to go back to the master recipe for fish in white wine sauce.  To make the fish in white wine sauce, the book sends you back to the fish stock recipe that you only really need about one cup of.  This wouldn't normally be a problem as many books do this and you can buy fish stock in the store, but we were bent on doing everything from scratch.  And when I say from scratch, I mean from scratch.

First we spent at least two hours Saturday night on AIM discussing what we wanted and what particular techniques meant.  There is one section that was quite confusing.  This is what it said:

In Margin:
Buttered brown paper or waxed paper (do no use aluminum foil--it will discolor the wine).  (209)

Okay, so this isn't so bad.  But we knew we had to put the waxed paper on top of the fish to put in the oven.  So we were trying to figure out what the heck Brown Paper was.  We were like, did parchment paper used to be brown?  Is it the same thing?  Nick finally found that it's regular brown paper.  Like from a grocery bag or butcher!  We're pretty sure that the technique is to butter the paper so that the butter absorbs into the paper and then drips on the fish.  Since brown bags can't be that clean we decided on using parchment paper.  However, since parchment paper is meant for the oven and has teflon in it so that it doesn't stick or absorb which kind of defeats the purpose of the paper absorbing the butter to flavor the fish.  Let me go on to the second part of the directions to show where we really got confused.

In body of recipe:
Bring almost to the simmer on top of the stove.  Lay the buttered paper over the fish.  Then place dish in bottom third of preheated oven.  Maintain liquid almost at the simmer for 8 to 12 minutes depending on the thickness of the filets.  (209)

Hmmm...this is where we got confused.  Since the margin right next to this section says to butter the paper we were wondering if that meant to simmer the paper on the stove top.  Paper + butter + stovetop sounds like a messy fire.  Then I was asking him (this is all Saturday night still over AIM) if that meant that we're supposed to put the dish with fish on the stovetop.  Now, I don't know what kind of cool pots and pans Julia had, but we were planning on putting our fish in a Pyrex which isn't made for the stovetop.  We were a little boggled.  In the end we buttered our parchment and just laid it on top of our cold fish before sticking it in the oven.

This is what the pages in the book look like.  On the left is the margin where it says to butter the brown paper and the right the body of the text where it give directions.

Being that this was our first time doing one of Julia's recipes, Nick thought that it would be fitting to learn to filet our own fish.  Let me tell you, I don't like fish.  I only make fish dishes because I don't want to make a lot of red meat and get tired of chicken and pork.  So not only do I not like eating fish, but I don't like looking at it either.  This is also why I didn't get a scuba certification when Christopher and my dad did theirs.  Needless to say, when I went to Ranch 99 I was a little disgusted by the whole fish counter.  I always walk by to gaze at the ugly eyes and people fighting over the fattest ones, but I've never had to actually pick one.  My dad saw that Rex Sole was a dollar cheaper per pound than just Sole.  What the difference is, I don't know nor do I really care at this point.  The price I guess.  I had the fish monger gut and scale the fish, but like I said, we were going to filet them ourselves.  While at the market I also got a couple of giant fish heads for the homemade stock that we were going to make.  Bleh, I was sooo grossed out that I made my dad hold my purse so that it didn't accidentally swing forward and get all fishy.

Look how ugly this guy is.  And I touched it!  Well one like it.  I forgot to take pictures before we filleted them so I got this off the internet. Now that we're done with the whole meal, we both agreed that it probably wasn't the best idea to learn to filet on a flat fish.  Round fish are most likely much easier.


Nick is having a good old time here filleting the fish, but he's into this kind of stuff.  His turned out really well.  Mine, on the other hand, had holes and bones still in it.  My dad ate those lovingly butchered pieces.  You can't tell by the picture below, but I was really grossed out.


The final product of an hours worth of filleting.  Not much.




After five hours in the kitchen and many, many dishes, this was our final product.  It doesn't look like much, but we managed to fill an empty dishwasher to the brim... and I wash all of our pots, pans, cutting boards, and knives by hand!  We made a spinach pancake that kind of tasted like a savory crepe and some squash to go along with the fish with mushrooms.  There was soooo much butter it was ridiculous.  I thought that the fish was okay, but I think that's only because it was drenched in buttery cream sauce and mushrooms.

1 comment:

Small but Weird said...

I guess a benefit of my mom having so many old cookbooks is that I've seen the brown paper reference pretty often. In your I think the paper was just supposed to be a type of lid. They wouldn't have had parchment back then so she wouldn't mention it. I would be weirded out by using a paper bag too, but I guess that's what they would do!