Quenelles de Brochet
Adapted from chef Philippe Bertineau of Benoit
This is a real project kind of recipe, at least in terms of planning ahead. Not that it’s actually very hard, or even that it takes that much work, but you first have to make the panade – a dough – and let it rest for 12 hours before making the quenelle mixture, which also has to rest for 12 hours before cooking. So start two days ahead, or at least the morning before your dinner party. Since making the traditional crawfish sauce would really make this a marathon, Chef Bertineau suggests using purchased lobster bisque for the sauce.
For the panade
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour, sifted
2 egg yolks
Salt, to taste
For the fish
1 pound pike filet (or other mild white fish), cut into rough 1” cubes
½ pound panade (from above)
3.5 tablespoons butter
1 cup heavy cream
Fine sea salt & fresh ground pepper, to taste
Espelette pepper, to taste (or cayenne)
1 quart lobster bisque
1 cup heavy cream, whipped (optional)
Special equipment: Stand mixer with meat grinder (or just a meat grinder if you’re old school).
Make the panade
1. Two days before serving (or, at least, the morning of the day before your dinner party), make the panade. In a large, wide sauce pan, bring the milk and butter to a boil over medium heat with a generous pinch of salt.
2. Once the milk is fully boiling, remove from heat and add flour all at once. Stir it with a wooden spoon or heat resistant spatula. Place the pan back over the heat and cook, stirring constantly, to “dry out” the mixture. The flour will absorb the milk mixture, and as you stir, it will eventually lose its tackiness and pull away from the pan.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and keep stirring occasionally to let it cool a bit. When it’s still very warm but not hot, beat in the egg yolks one by one. (You have to let it cool so the eggs don’t cook on contact.)
4. Place the panade in a container and cover it with plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out. Let it cool to room temperature, and let it rest in the fridge for at least 12 hours.
Make the quenelle mixture
5. Make sure all your ingredients are quite cold, except for the butter, which should be room temperature and pliable. Fire up your meat grinder (I’ve always wanted to say that) with the ¼” die plate, and set the stand mixer workbowl under it. Drop the fish through, once or twice, your call. (Twice makes it super-smooth; once gives you a little more contrast and chew in the final product.)
6. Set the workbowl up with the mixer’s paddle attachment. (Or get ready to work it with a rubber spatula by hand.) At medium-low speed, beat the panade, one quarter-sized chunk at a time, into the fish. Don’t worry too much about over-mixing; you actually want to develop the protein a bit so that the quenelles will hold together. Then add the butter, also in chunks. When it’s all in, everything should look like a rough paste, sticking a bit to the bowl, and kind of holding peaks. (If you need to, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides with a spatula to make sure it’s all mixed well.) Now add the eggs, one at a time. Don’t worry, it will look horrible, with floppy bits floating around. Ghastly. But let it work, and add a healthy pinch of salt, white pepper, and a touch of espelette or cayenne pepper. When the mixture starts to come back together, pour in the cream.
7. Increase the mixer speed to medium or medium high to get some air into the cream. The mixture will come together like a very thick batter, weirdly jiggly and tacky. Give it a quick taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer to a container, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest in the fridge, at least 12 hours.
Forming and poaching the quenelles
8. Cover a tray in plastic wrap. Using two large spoons, form 4-ounce footballs of the fish mixture and lay them gently on the tray.
9. While you’re still forming the quenelles, get a large pot of water simmering hot, just under boiling. Salt it with commitment, like you would for pasta. When the quenelles are ready, gently lower them in, only as many as will still give them room to float about. Keep the water at a bubbleless poach, 165⁰F, and poach them for about 6-7 minutes, flipping them occasionally. They will float almost instantly, so you can’t judge their doneness that way. When they’re ready, they will be set, but not stiff— they’ll still be a little jiggly. Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain them on paper towel.
Note: If you’re not serving them for a while, you can cool and chill them from here, but bring them back up to poaching temperature when it’s time to finish.
Finish and serve
10. Preheat oven to 365⁰F and bring the lobster bisque to a simmer. Roll the quenelles in the lobster bisque and place in a gratin dish (or in individual gratin dishes, fitting 2 at a time). Surround the quenelles with the hot bisque, up to maybe ¾ their depth. Bake for 10 minutes, until the quenelles have puffed up and absorbed some of that delicious, delicious bisque, and just started to lightly brown on top.
11. Serve immediately, and, if you believe you only live once, with a dollop of whipped cream.