This is a pretty good example of intimidating French food. Not so much in the ingredients – the only odd one there is preserved lemon, which really isn’t that odd, seeing as how easy they are to find at Whole Foods or Middle Eastern groceries. No, the intimidating thing here is the method, which asks you to take some fish, add a couple egg whites and some cream and throw it in a food processor so you can make a mousse of it.
It only gets Frenchier from there.
I wasn’t sure about this one. For one thing, there’s no picture of the end result: a steamed sausage of fish mousse filled with lemony spinach. I can honestly say that I had no idea what the hell I was doing when I made this. Perhaps it was just the inability of my pregnancy brain to figure it all out, but I really didn’t know what I was doing. I had no image of what the final dish should look like. The whole thing was very perplexing to me.
This is a recipe broken into three parts: a tomato sauce for accompaniment, the spinach filling, and the fish roulades themselves. Let’s start with the tomato sauce.
Easy. Everything’s just thrown into a pan and softened before getting transferred over to a blender to become a surprisingly small amount of sauce. True, I had halved it because I only had two decent tomatoes, but it was maybe a half-cup of sauce. I was starting to have my doubts. But, it was easy to make, especially since it could be made ahead of time, so it had that going for it. Into the fridge it went.
Next: the spinach filling.
This was also quite easy and fast and suitable to make ahead. Pretty standard stuff: spinach, garlic, more lemon, plus a little water to help the spinach cook a bit. It didn’t drain very well, though, which may or may not have caused problems later. Dorie does not specify wringing it dry, but it might be worth doing. Even though most of the liquid stayed in the pan, the spinach was still pretty wet.
But, moving on to the main event: the fish roulades. This wasn’t going to be so quick and easy.
Also, I had – as I mentioned before – no visual reference and therefore no idea what I was doing.
I have no idea if it was supposed to look like that. Dorie said it should be smooth – nope. It should be thick – well, yes. Sticky? Definitely. Two out of three? Okay, good enough for me.
Then, things get really fussy. Plastic wrap (one of my least favorite things to work with) is laid out on the counter. A quarter of the puree went onto and was smoothed out into a rectangle, thin but not too thin. A quarter of the spinach is then spooned onto the middle of the rectangle, and then it’s all rolled up into a neat sausage.
Except, not so neat. Almost immediately, liquid began leaking out. Spinach juice? Cream? Cod juice? A combination of the three? All I know is this: I hate rolling things, I hate twisting them closed, and I hate things that leak liquid and leave a mess all over my counter. The entire time I finished rolling these out, I was thinking, this had better be the best damn fish dish I’ve ever eaten.
Once the roulades were all made, they went into my good old bamboo steamer to cook for about 10 minutes. While that was going on, I sauteed some asparagus with bacon, which assured me that at least something edible would show up on the table.
Upon opening the steamer, I found that a lot of liquid had seeped out of the roulades and was stuck in the plastic wrap. It made a horrible mess on my cutting board. And the roulades just fell apart when I moved them from steamer to cutting board. Delicate? Yes. Infuriating? Yes. But I was so hungry by this time that I had ceased to care what the dish looked like. All I wanted was to eat!
I wish I could blame my assessment of the flavors of this dish on the pregnancy, but the truth is, I find that flavors are enhanced when I’m pregnant. Maybe it’s because my sense of smell becomes truly super-human. I don’t know. But things just taste . . . more.
Except for this. It didn’t taste more. It tasted mostly like nothing. And spinach. It tasted mostly of spinach.
Which is fine. I like spinach. But the fish mousse had no flavor whatsoever. Maybe I didn’t salt it enough. But by itself, it was like eating an egg white omelet. Nothing. Just nothing. Geordie concurred. Not even the tomato sauce helped, because I found the tomato sauce to be bland too. None of the flavors stood out to me, not even the lemon. Thank goodness for the asparagus, because otherwise, this meal would have been a complete waste.
Some of the Doristas really liked this (check out their links!), but I was mostly unimpressed. Yes, it was fussy and kind of a pain in the ass to make, but I could have forgiven that if it had just had some kind of flavor. Any kind of flavor! When done properly, I imagine this does have an air of elegance to it, that it does stand out as an impressive dish. But, if it has no flavor, what’s the point?
Not going to repeat this one. Sorry, Doristas, but it just didn’t work for me!