John Dory, sorrel sauce; potatoes; cabbage, scallion, fennel

We ate in a modest Paris bistro last night.

The trip started when I spotted John Dory at the Greenmarket, earlier in the day.

After selecting 2 of the fillets in that picture, I turned around to find that another stall was displaying the last of its farmer’s ‘bouquets’ of beautiful red sorrel, very much alive, their roots still intact. Minutes later, remembering that I had some boiling potatoes at home and also one small Napa cabbage. I had already composed a meal which gradually looked more and more French, but it was only when we had sat down to it that I realized we were inside a French bistro, about to enjoy Filets de St-Pierre à l’oseille.

In between, the kitchen had managed to look more serious than usual, with a number of pans in the fire at the same time.

The cabbage is in the large deep pot; the scallions and fennel seed in the small copper skillet in front of it; the sorrel sauce was being prepared in the deeper copper pan to the top right; the potatoes were boiling in the clear glass antique Pyrex pan; the small early-19th-century enameled cast iron porringer on the electric hot plate was melting butter in which the fillets would soon be dipped, inside the shallow white bowl on the far right; and at this moment that bowl was resting on top of the glazed ceramic baking pan in which they were shortly to be roasted. The fish is waiting out of the camera frame, on the counter to the right of the stove and the sink.

Note: I would never have been able to juggle this kitchen army only a few years ago, but practice makes courage.

This is a picture of the John Dory fillets as they emerged from the oven.

Fortunately this fish is a little firmer than some, because I had already placed the John Dory on the 2 plates before I realized that, to do it properly, it should rest on a pool of sauce. This meant that I now had to arrange the sauce to the right of each fillet, then gingerly lift the fish – turn it 180 degrees (to achieve a relatively aesthetic posture) – and bring it back down on top of its condiment.

The vegetables then followed. They were easy.

  • two 6-ounce fillets of John Dory (aka le Poisson de St.Pierre, Pesce San Pietro, Petersfisch, Heringskőnig, Zeus Faber [yeah.], or, funny-shiny-one with-the-sourpuss-face) from Pura Vida Seafood, washed, dried, seasoned with good sea salt and freshly-ground pepper on both sides, dipped in a tablespoon of melted butter (here it’s always ‘Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter‘), arranged inside a glazed ceramic oven pan just large enough to accommodate them without crowding, roasted in a 425º oven for about 8 minutes, removed and arranged on the top of a pool of sorrel sauce which had been prepared just before
  • one decent-size shallot from Norwich Meadows Farm, minced, cooked with a tablespoon or less of butter melted inside a tin-lined copper pan until soft, followed by a handful of red sorrel (whose red veins account for the pink tone of the sauce) from Two Guys from Woodbridge, their stems removed and the leaves scissored into roughly one-inch lengths, stirred and cooked until the sorrel ‘melted’, then one fourth of a cup of a good Sauvignon Blanc (Rumpus 2015) added and cooked until reduced by a fourth, 4 ounces of Ronnybrook Farm crème fraîche introduced and cooked gently for a few minutes, stirring, until it was able to coat a spoon, the seasoning corrected, and the sauce removed from the heat
  • four small Carola potatoes from Lucky Dog Organic Farm, boiled, drained, dried in the pan, halved, reserved until the fish had been arranged on the plates, when they were scattered with chopped lovage from two Guys from Woodbridge
  • the white and lighter green parts of a Japanese scallion from Norwich Meadows Farm, sliced, heated along with a tablespoon of fennel seed in one tablespoon of butter inside a tin-lined copper skillet until the scallion had softened and the fennel become pungent, then set aside while another tablespoon of butter, or a little more, was melted inside a large enameled cast iron pot and one 8-ounce Napa cabbage, also from Norwich Meadows Farm, roughly chopped, was added and stirred until wilted, after which the reserved scallion-fennel mixture, some sea salt, and a little freshly-ground black pepper were added, and the cabbage stirred some more, finished by tossing in the green tops of the scallions, chopped
  • the wine was a California (Carneros) white, La Tapatia Chardonnay Carneros 2015, form Naked Wines
  • the music was 2 very different, very rich new works, Andris Dzenītis, ‘E(GO)’, and Lorenzo Ferrero, his string quartet cycle ‘Tempi di Quartetto’