Three Ways to Make Poached Fish with White Wine Sauce

Small whole fish, fillets of small fish or small cuts of large fish off the bone may be shallow poached using a liquid consisting of water, lemon juice and salt. For white fish such as sole, plaice, halibut and turbot fish stock and white or red wine may be used.

Shallow poaching is carried out by covering the fish with the appropriate liquid in a shallow sided pan. In order to obtain the even cooking temperature necessary for these delicate products, an oven temperature of 175°C is required and a cooking time of approximately 8 minutes is sufficient.

A considerable number of different dishes may be produced by adding a variety of other ingredients. Two well-known dishes using the principle of shallow poaching are Fillets of Sole Bonne Femme (which has a garnish of chopped shallots and parsley and sliced mushrooms), and Suprême of Turbot Dugléré (which has a garnish of chopped shallots and parsley and diced tomatoes).

Fish dishes prepared by shallow poaching are served in four basic ways:
(a) in a white wine sauce;
(b) in a sauce mornay;
(c) in a red wine sauce;
(d) in a shellfish flavoured sauce.

The main differentiation between dishes in each category is the garnish used. These dishes may be unglazed or glazed, the former is simply coated with the sauce and served whilst the latter is placed under a salamander grill to give the sauce an even coloration.

Fleurons — crescent shaped items of puff pastry — are generally served with unglazed fish dishes. They add color and crispness to what may otherwise be a completely white and soft textured dish.

The majority of shallow poached fish dishes are served with a white wine sauce. There are several methods for preparing a white wine sauce, but whatever the method used the quality of the sauce basically depends upon the following:

(a) the quality of the fish stock used;
(b) the quality of the fish velouté used;
(c) the reduction of the cooking liquid in which the fish has been poached;
(d) the addition of butter and lightly beaten cream to the sauce;
(e) the addition (optional) of a sabayon of cooked egg yolks.

The three most widely used methods for preparing white wine sauces are given in 6.1-3 below. The first two are recommended for producing sufficient sauce for between one and ten portions of fish and should be cooked and served immediately. The third is the common trade practice recommended for any quantity when there is some delay between completion of the dish and service to the customer.

Method ONE

Makes: 2 portions. Cooking time: 10 minutes.

Ingredients:
— 3 dl strained liquid in which the fish has been previously poached
— 85 grams butter (preferably unsalted)

Method:
(1) Boil the strained cooking liquid in a shallow sided saucepan until it reduces in volume and thickens to a syrupy consistency. Allow to cool for a few minutes.
(2) Briskly whisk nut size pieces of butter one at a time into the reduction which should emulsify together to form a sauce.
(3) Test for seasoning and consistency.
(4) Test how well the sauce will glaze on the back of a dish under a salamander grill before proceeding; it should form a skin, rise and colour.
(5) Arrange the cooked, well drained and trimmed fish in a serving dish on a little of the sauce and dry off any surface moisture under a salamander grill for a few moments.
(6) Coat the fish evenly with the sauce and glaze under a very hot salamander grill.

Notes:
(1) Avoid using an aluminium or iron saucepan as these can cause the sauce to discolor.
(2) If the sauce is not required for glazing, Stages 4 and part of 6 do not apply.

Method TWO

Makes: 2 portions. Cooking time: 10 minutes.

Ingredients:
— 2 dl strained liquid in which the fish has been previously poached
— 70 grams butter (preferably unsalted)
— 1 dl lightly beaten double cream

Method:
(1) Boil the strained cooking liquid in a shallow sided saucepan until it reduces in volume and thickens to a syrupy consistency. Allow to cool for a few minutes.
(2) Briskly whisk nut size pieces of butter one at a time into the reduction which will emulsify together forming a sauce.
(3) Add the lightly beaten cream a little at a time using a whisk.
(4) Test for seasoning and consistency.
(5) Test how well the sauce will glaze on the back of a dish under a salamander grill before proceeding; it should form a skin, rise and colour.
(6) Arrange the cooked, well drained and trimmed fish in a serving dish on a little of the sauce and dry off any surface moisture under a salamander grill for a few moments.
(7) Coat the fish evenly with the sauce and glaze under a very hot salamander grill.

Note:
(1) Avoid using an aluminium or iron saucepan as these can cause the sauce to discolour.
(2) If the sauce is not required for glazing, Stages 5 and 7 do not apply.

Possible problem, cause and solution:
(1) Butter will not emulsify with the reduced cooking liquid, or sauce curdles when glazed:
— fish stock in which the fish was poached was weak because it was not cooked out for the correct length of time or the wrong type of bones were used.
— fish stock was not reduced sufficiently.
— insufficient fish stock reduced.
— reduced cooking liquid not allowed allowed to cool sufficiently before adding the butter.
— reduced cooking liquid and butter were too hot.
— reduction at correct temperature but butter was cold and hard.

Note:
Whisk the curdled sauce onto a little double cream or fish velouté, but care must be taken to use only minimum necessary as these ingredients will alter the nature of the sauce and may make it too thick. If this occurs, thin the sauce with a little fish stock or the liquid in which the fish was poached, or a combination of the two.

(2) Completed sauce is too salty:
— basic fish stock in which the fish was poached was overcooked; care must be taken when preparing the basic stock as problems caused by poor quality stock cannot be rectified later.
— the amount of cooking liquid reduced was too great for the amount of butter added or sauce required; care must be taken to reduce the correct amount of cooking liquid as this cannot be rectified later.
— salted butter was used; only unsalted butter should be used as this cannot be rectified later.

(3) Sauce is too thick:
— too much butter added to the reduction; thin with a little cooking liquid or dry white wine.
— butter was hard; thin with a little cooking liquid or dry white wine.

(4) Sauce is too dark:
— poor quality fish stock used; lightly beaten cream may be used to lighten the sauce but it may be less expensive to discard the sauce and begin again.
— the amount of cooking liquid reduced was too great for the amount of butter added or sauce required; lightly beaten cream may be used to lighten the sauce but it may be less expensive to discard the sauce and begin again.

Method THREE

Makes: 10 portions. Cooking time: 15-20 minutes.

Ingredients:
— 2 dl reduction of strained liquid in which the fish has been previously poached.
— 6 dl fish velouté strained through a fish strainer or muslin
— 75 grams butter (preferably unsalted)
— 1 dl lightly beaten double cream
— Sabayon of two cooked egg yolks (optional)

Method:
(1) Reduce the strained cooking liquid.
(2) Add the reduction to the fish velouté.
(3) Add the butter a little at a time.
(4) Add the lightly beaten cream, using either a whisk or a ladle.
(5) Test for seasoning and consistency.
(6) Test how well the sauce will glaze on the back of a dish under a salamander grill before proceeding; it should form a skin, rise and colour.
(7) Arrange the cooked, well drained and trimmed fish in a serving dish on a little of the sauce and dry off any surface moisture under a salamander grill for a few moments.
(8) Coat the fish evenly with the sauce and glaze under a very hot salamander grill.

Notes:
(1) If the sauce is not required for glazing, Stages 6 and part of 8 do not apply.
(2) If a sabayon of cooked egg yolks is used, it is added to the fish velouté before it is passed through a strainer or muslin.
(3) The sauce, once completed with butter and cream (and the sabayon if included), should not be permitted to stand in a hot bain-marie for any length of time. Certainly, the water in the bain-marie should never be allowed to boil. If this is ignored then there is a real danger that the sauce will lose its lightness and may glaze badly, for the simple reason that the sauce continues to cook and forces out air incorporated by the addition of the lightly beaten cream and sabayon.
(4) To prevent a skin from forming on the surface of the sauce it should be spread with knobs of butter and/or a covering of greaseproof paper.

*The sauce should be tested on the back of a flat dish and glazed to see if there are any problems that can be rectified before the fish is finished with the sauce and glazed.

Possible problem, cause and solution:
(1) Glace on surface of fish is uneven:
— velouté undercooked; care must be taken to cook the velouté thoroughly as this cannot later be rectified.
— too much fat in the roux on which the velouté is based; care must be taken to cook the velouté properly as this cannot later be rectified.
— completed sauce is too thick; care must be taken to prepare the sauce correctly as this
cannot be rectified once the sauce is glazed.
— completed sauce too thin; care must be taken to prepare the sauce correctly as this cannot be rectified once the sauce is glazed.
— insufficient lightly beaten cream added; care must be taken to use the correct quantity of cream as this cannot be rectified once the sauce is glazed.
— insufficient cooked egg yolks or sabayon used; care must be taken to use the correct quantity of these as this cannot be rectified once the sauce is glazed.
— completed sauce held at too high a temperature; care must be taken at this stage as once the sauce is glazed the problem cannot be rectified.
— temperature of salamander grill too low; the grill must be hot enough to glaze the sauce quickly as this cannot be rectified once the fish is glazed.
— fish not sufficiently dried before coating with the completed sauce; care must be taken at this stage as the problem cannot be rectified once the sauce is glazed.

(2) Sauce runs off the fish when placed under the grill:
— Sauce is too thin; care must be taken when preparing the sauce as once it is glazed any problem cannot be rectified.
— temperature of the salamander grill too low; care must be taken to heat the grill sufficiently as once the sauce is glazed the problem cannot be rectified.
— fish not dried sufficiently before coating with the sauce; care must be taken at this stage as the problem cannot be rectified once the sauce is glazed.

(3) Sauce is too dark:
— poor quality fish velouté used; care must be taken when preparing the velouté as problems caused by faulty velouté cannot be rectified later.
— poor quality fish stock used to poach the fish; the fish stock used to poach the fish must be of good quality as problems caused by faulty stock cannot later be rectified.
— insufficient cream used; care must be taken to add the correct quantity of cream as once the sauce is glazed the problem cannot be rectified.

(4) Sauce is floury in flavor and gluey in texture:
— velouté undercooked; care must taken when preparing the velouté as problems caused by faulty ingredients cannot later be rectified.

(5) Sauce is too salty:
— too high a proportion of reduced cooking liquid to velouté used; care must be taken to get these proportions correct as once the sauce is glazed any problems cannot be rectified.
— salted butter used; only unsalted butter should be used to avoid this problem as it cannot be rectified once the sauce has been glazed.
— basic velouté was already seasoned; the basic velouté should not be seasoned to avoid this problem as it cannot be rectified once the sauce has been glazed.

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