Poisson d’Avril à Moi

My April Fool Fish

The king of Mediterranean fish, the loup de mer or sea-bass, is most often prepared over a bed of flaming fennel stalks and eaten hot. This fish is, however, also very fine served cold, rather as we would serve cold salmon trout in the summer, with a sauce verte. But one spring, not long after seeing the film French Connection, in which on the fish quay at Marseilles, amongst the shimmering live fish, traditional paper fish are pinned on the unsuspecting, I decided to prepare my own April Fool fish as here. On this day all over France fish are to be seen, made from pastry, bread dough and genoise sponge-cake – and, of course, there are plenty of real ones too.

Ingredients

  • kg( lb) loup de mer or sea-bass
  • olive oil or sunflower oil
  • 2 tablespoons duxelles or the finely diced stalks of the mushrooms softened in oil
  • 1 small wineglass dry white wine
  • approx 340 g(12 oz) cultivated mushrooms, of even size
  • flat parsley
  • lemon juice

Method

Usually the fishmonger will run his knife down the fish to de-scale it for you straight after cleaning it. Otherwise simply scrape the blade of a knife along the fish from tail to the head to remove the scales on both sides. Rinse the fish under cold water inside and out, and dry well on kitchen paper.

Place the fish on a large sheet of double-thickness foil, lightly oiled, resting on a baking sheet. Season the fish inside and on top, and spoon the duxelles or mushroom stalks into the body cavity. Pour over the white wine and fold up the foil to enclose the fish, squeezing the edges together to make a parcel.

Bake in the centre of a moderate oven (Mark 5, 190°C, 375°F) for 20–25 minutes. The fish is cooked when the flesh is opaque – take care not to overcook it.

Remove from the oven, allow the fish to cool for 10–15 minutes, and transfer to a large serving-dish. Make a neat cut through the skin in a curved line behind the head. Then gently pull off the skin on the body, in sections if easier, removing the gills but leaving the tail intact.

Wipe the mushrooms with a damp cloth and remove the stalks – unless you have used them in the stuffing. (Use them in soup.) Slice the mushrooms thinly and evenly, and cook in olive oil until softened and most of the liquid has been driven off.

Make a collar of parsley leaves just behind the head of the fish. Arrange the sliced mushrooms just slightly overlapping, with the curved side towards the head, either covering the body of the fish or decorating it in bands. Brush the fish all over with a little oil mixed with lemon juice and leave in a cold place until ready to serve.

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