Paul Bocuse, who died a year ago last month at the age of 94, was among those visionary French chefs who bridged the divide between the formal, just-so, cuisine of Auguste Escoffier’s generation and the cuisine we have today. French dishes were given a twist, switched-up, while respecting the original, and Nouvelle Cuisine was born. Restaurant cuisine, in the French tradition, would never be the same again.
But the dish that bears the Bocuse name most profoundly, and with which his name is perhaps most closely identified, is his baked cod topped with a layer of potato scales.
This week my friend, a farmer with a classic bent who is also an academy-qualified chef (and who is too shy to be named here), came around and demonstrated for me the recipe he was taught to do at culinary college. It’s a very precise recipe, and I was somewhat in awe.
I helped by making a rustic pea purée. Because we didn’t feel we were quite up to the standard of a proper French chef, we decided to call it Fish, Chips & Peas. We used kingklip, but cod is the fish it was invented for. Here’s how he did it.
For 4 portions
4 fish fillets, boneless and skinned
2 large potatoes, peeled
3 egg yolks, beaten
1 cup butter
1 cup clarified butter (ghee)
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the fish fillets into generous portions (don’t use the tail end – they can go into the freezer to use for a fish stock one day). Lightly score the top of each fillet in a diamond pattern, to help the egg yolk “glue” to the potato scales. Salt lightly. Brush the scored side with egg yolk. Refrigerate for half an hour.
Slice the peeled potatoes using a gravity slicer, or use a mandoline or the slicing part of a large cheese grater.
Melt butter in a saucepan and whisk in cornflour until it’s a lightly custardy paste and is smooth.
Use a melon baller to cut little rounds (“scales”) out of the potato slices. Simmer the potato slices in boiling water for a few minutes until par-cooked. Don’t overdo it.
Drain the scales and drench them in the butter-cornflour mix.
Layer these in rows from top to bottom of each fish slice, overlapping them. Brush generously with the melted butter/cornflour mix. Brush again, and again.
Refrigerate for half an hour or more. Salt lightly.
Melt clarified butter (ghee) in a frying pan and carefully lower the fillets, potato side down, into the bubbling butter. Fry until the scales are golden brown. Lift and turn over onto a greased baking tray. Bake for 7 minutes in a 180-degree oven.
That’s the “fish & chips” part.
For the pea purée, pour 2 cups frozen peas into a bowl, add 4 or 5 sprigs of mint, pour over boiling water to cover, cover with clingfilm and leave for 10 minutes. Drain. Remove leaves from the mint sprigs. Add the leaves to the peas but discard the stems. Blitz the peas and mint in a blender, adding salt to taste. Stir in 200g crème fraîche. Done. DM
In other news...
The South African economy is choking harder than the Proteas. Although to be choking you have to actually be eating and the Proteas seem to be on some sort of juice cleanse-like fast…*
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*Proteas, you know we love you. We’d just love you more if you won occasionally...
A medium popcorn & soft drink combo is the nutritional equivalent of three quarter-pounders and 12 pieces of butter.