Monday, February 18, 2013

Bouillabaisse en Papillote (aka Fish Stew in Paper)

Look at the two titles above. One looks tempting, fancy, you might see it on a menu in a classy restaurant. The other looks… ordinary.

I started out with the intentions of one, and wound up with the reality of the other.
The image from the book doesn't actually show the finished product... although that is one very nicely tied bow (image courtesy Jason Thomas)

It was my mum’s significant birthday, worthy of celebrating with a completely over-the-top thirteen course dinner. I am not an athletic person, I can’t run marathons or participate in grand finals. I’m not very musical. I drive a seven-seater beast with bird crap on the windows. I am not fashion model and I have fuzzy hair. If I can’t show off in the kitchen, there is pretty much nowhere I can show off.

I decided to show off with this.
Yes, I even laminated the menu. Show off.

I can’t take credit for all thirteen courses. The last five are courtesy of my sister who was on dessert and kids duties. The kids got little red sausages and ravioli and we ate bouillabaisse en papillote.

Actually, we had fish stew.

Actually we had giant-baby-octopus-stew-with-a-sliver-of-fish-stew. Nummy.

The recipe calls for an assortment of goodies from the sea: mussels, prawns, scallops, squid rings, baby octopus and pink snapper. This is baked in tomato sugo and white wine and flavoured with garlic, chilli and fresh herbs.
But this was going to be the final savoury course and I didn’t want my guests to be overwhelmed by the cast of Finding Nemo and The Little Mermaid having a party on their plate, so when I went to the fishmonger to buy my ingredients I began making a few changes to the recipe.

The first to go were the scallops, based on the fact I was already dishing them up with the chilled avocado soup.
My soup was a huge success

Next to be deleted were the mussels because Mum doesn’t like them and I figured if it was her birthday, there was no point serving up things she doesn’t like.

The Boatshed (I drool just thinking about that place) doesn’t ‘do’ squid rings but they did have some extraordinary baby octopus. It wasn’t until I got home and unwrapped my packages that I discovered that my babies were more like tweenies. Oh well.
Ooo la la, I'm feeling so French today

Deluding myself I was on a cooking show, I cut all my ingredients and put them in little bowls. Mise en plus, I believe is the technical term. See. I know stuff.

Looking at my show-offy menu I realised there weren’t many vegetables on offer. In fact, it was going to be a meat-fest, so in a half-hearted attempt to be balanced I added some zucchini and leek rings to my packaged.

So began the laborious job of making eight parcels of double-layered alfoil lined with baking paper, then layering the ingredients inside, before tying with twine.
Yes, I think that is an octopus tentacle pressed against the paper

There were two good things about this process. The first was that all the prep could be done well in advance of my dinner party. No last minute stressing (except for the bit when I forgot to actually put them in the oven, but we’ll ignore that).

The second was that each parcel needed only a tablespoon of white wine, which meant the majority of the bottle was left over for me to drink as I cooked.
It looks like the cast of Alien

I had bought enough king prawns for each guest to have two each, but considering they were almost large enough to be legally considered a crayfish, I decided to just put one in each package. So in the end each package had one giant prawn, one even gianter so-called baby octopus and a three unforgivably small pieces of fish. It was a bit of a let down.

Because my quantities were significantly less than the recipe suggested, the cooking time then became my biggest concern. Not much fish… but there were 8 parcels. What to do?

In the end it was irrelevant because the timer on the oven stuffed up and who knows how long they cooked for. ‘Too long’ was the general consensus.

My thoughts:

These were a pretty awesome dinner party offering, as they were posh-as, easy to prepare and you could do it all in advance. Some crusty sour-dough and real butter were all we needed to soak up the juices. I didn’t even bother with fancy dishes, I just served it up in all its alfoily glory.

But, they deserved to be on a main-stage (with a full complement of ingredients) rather than bringing up the rear of eight other (highly successful) courses with less than half of the recommended ingredients.

So, fish stew. How about you?

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