Saturday, May 24, 2014

Court Bouillion

The Berkshire Farmer is very impressed with the
size of the fish head
Court bouillon is fish consume, or fish broth, if you will. It always seemed to me like one of those immensely complicated and exotic dishes that populated Craig Clairborne's iconic New York Times Cookbook. It needs fish heads and fish bones and other items not readily obtainable in the 21st Century. So you think. Or, more correctly, so I thought.
Well, wrong. Court bouillon is neither exotic nor complicated. You just throw all the ingredients into a pot and simmer. Even though this recipe calls for stuff like cheesecloth, which I have sometimes, don't bother with that. You can, as I said, just throw all the ingredients into a pot and strain the soup through a colander.
Fish heads are obtainable no further away than your local fish store, or at least my local fish store, the Fishery, on Connecticut Avenue. I zoomed up there on Thursday evening, 20 minutes before we were supposed to leave for the theatre to buy the red snapper required for Chilled Red Snapper Appetizer. After the man behind the counter handed me my pound and a quarter of snapper, I tentatively inquired after fish heads.
"What kind do you want?" he asked. I thought, you mean there's a selection? I asked for two red snapper heads, assuming that red snapper were the size of trout. Imagine my astonishment when he came out with two fish heads each larger than our dog's head, individually frozen in plastic bags. We have a corgi, which is not a terribly large dog, but he would make a good size fish. The heads glared through glassy, frozen eyes and the mouths looked like beaks.
"One's fine," I said weakly.
I carried my booty home and stuffed it into the refrigerator so we could leave for the play. At 11:00 pm when we wandered back into the house,  I started taking stuff out to begin the court bouillon. The court bouillon was to poach the red snapper in. We were having our old friends, Rich and Mary Alice to dinner on Friday night, so I wanted to get this sucker done before I went to bed on Thursday.
I quickly identified one major problem, viz. that the fish head was too big for the small stockpot. It had been a while since I had done any serious large scale soup cooking, but I remembered my large stock pot, stainless steel, nine inches high and 11 inches in diameter, lurking up in the cabinet over the refrigerator. I hauled out the little black stool built by my father in law back in the depths of time, and hooked the pot out with the handle of a wooden spoon.
The recipe called for four cups of water. Given the size of the pot and the size of the fish head, I put in six cups of water, feeling sure that the amount of fish product on the head would more than compensate for the extra water. The recipe is also full of finicky details such as sprinkling thyme on the celery stalk, covering it with the bay leaf and tying the whole thing up in a bundle. Well, this ain't Escoffier, I can tell you that. I just threw it all in the pot as it came out of its component spice jars, and drained it the following morning in the colander.
The directions say to simmer the broth for twenty-five minutes. Given that the fish head, which is floating around on Facebook as "our new pet," was frozen solid, I simmered for 45 minutes, turned it off and went to bed.

The next morning I awoke to a rich, salty, essence of fish broth in my pot. Also a shapeless, floppy fish head that I rapidly discarded in the trash can in the alley. Don't put fish leavings in your trash can. You might have to move, or fumigate at the very least. So, the mysterious and exotic court bouillon is a piece of cake.

Court Bouillon

1 cup white wine
4 cups water (or six, depending on the size of the fish head)
bones and head of snapper or other white fish ( I skipped the bones.)
6 peppercorns, bruised (I imagine this means tapped gently with a hammer. I skipped the bruising.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 small onion
1/2 rib celery
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 bay leaf (Be serious. Whoever heard of half a bay leaf? Put in the whole thing!)
2 sprigs parsley

1. Place the wine, water, fish bones and head, peppercorns, salt and onion in a saucepan. (Or stockpot, depending on the size of the fish head.) Sprinkle the inside of the celery with the thyme, cover with the bay leaf and parsley sprigs and tie into a bundle. (See narrative.) Add bundle to the pan.
2. Bring to a boil and simmer twenty-five minutes. Strain through a double thickness of cheesecloth (or a colander.) Makes about one quart.

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