Saturday, April 5, 2014

Recipe of the month: rougets à la crème d'olives

On April Fool’s Day in France, the traditional prank is to tape a paper fish, a poisson d’avril, on someone’s back.  Without them knowing, of course, otherwise it’s not funny.  As my French chef friend Brigitte explained in her recipe this week, “This tradition dates from the 16th century when [King] Charles IX adopted the Gregorian calendar ... making New Year’s [Day] on January 1st instead of April 1st.  People who did not follow the new calendar were called “fools” and were played tricks on.  Some believe the connection with the fish is related to the sun leaving the zodiacal sign of Pisces.”
Whatever the reason, I’m ready to be made a fool if it means it’s no longer March.
March came in like a lion and is leaving like a lamb (lamb for Easter, yum!), along with the snow, which is slowly melting.  We’ll all be glad to see the behind of it.  We’re ready for April, in spite of the rains it usually brings:  April showers, / bring May flowers / and kids cooped up in the house for hours!

In honor of April Fool’s Day and its legendary poisson d’avril, as well as because it’s still Lent for the Christians among us, here’s a recipe I stole from chef Philippe DaSilva (and yes, that was once a Portuguese name but he really is French):  rougets à la crème d’olives - red mullet with olive cream.  It should please the fish lovers among you, is fairly easy and quick to cook, and requires few ingredients.
You can substitute any mild-tasting fish - perch, tilapia, flounder, orange roughy - for the red mullet; it’s a common fish in the Mediterranean, but not equally elsewhere.  Get the fish monger to fillet it for you, or you can even use frozen, provided you dry it well before cooking.
Other substitutes:  You can use oregano instead of marjoram if it’s more handy; after all, they’re related.  (I had to use thyme for the photo.)  If you don’t want to remove the stems from the spinach, buy baby spinach.  And if you really can’t abide spinach, try some thinly sliced zucchini instead.
The garlic-on-a-fork trick is good for those who enjoy the flavor but don’t want to actually eat it.
So happy April, happy Easter, and happy no more snow.

20 small green pitted olives
1 c (25 cl) heavy cream
olive oil
7 oz (200 g) spinach, washed and stems removed (or frozen, if pressed for time)
4 red mullet fillets
salt & pepper
clove of garlic

- Heat the cream without letting it come to a boil.  Add the olives and continue warming for 2-3 minutes.
- Put the cream, olives and 2T of olive oil in a blender/food processor.  Blend well.  Add salt and pepper to taste, remembering that the olives may already be salty.  Keep this cream warm (for instance in a double-boiler).
- After drying the spinach (a salad spinner works well here), heat the leaves in some olive oil.  Spear a clove of garlic on a fork and stir the spinach as it cooks.  When all the spinach leaves have wilted, strain them.
- Salt and pepper the mullet fillets.  Sauté them in some olive oil, skin side first.  (That prevents them from curling up.)  When they’re crisp, flip them over gently and put a few leaves of marjoram on top.  When the second side is crisp, flip it over once more for just about half a minute.
- Spread the spinach out on a serving platter, leaving some space at the edges for the cream.  Place the fillets on top.  Pour the olive cream around the edges and serve immediately.

Accompany with a light, crisp white or rosé wine.

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