Jacques Pépin: The Apprentice—My Life in the Kitchen

Braised Striped Bass Pavillon

Yield: 4 servings
I had never seen, tasted, or cooked striped bass before I worked at the Pavillon. It is similar, however, to the loup de mer of the Mediterranean, one of the most prized fish of that region and a standard menu item in restaurants along the Côte d'Azur. With flesh that is slightly softer and moister than its European cousin, bass is an excellent fish and was a specialty of the Pavillon. The braised wild striped bass that we served whole there would be presented to the patrons and carved in the dining room.

The following simple, elegant, and mouth-watering adaptation of the Pavillon recipe serves about four people. The fish, gutted with head on, is braised with white wine, shallots, and mushrooms in the oven, then coated with the cooking juices enriched with butter.

1 striped bass, gutted, with head on (about 3 pounds)
1/4 cup chopped shallots
2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1 cup dry, fruity white wine (Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc)
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely minced chives

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the fish in a gratin dish or stainless steel baking dish that is narrow enough so that the garnishes and the wine won't spread out too much. Sprinkle with the shallots, mushrooms, salt, pepper, olive oil, thyme, bay leaves, and wine. Cover tightly with a piece of aluminum foil, so the fish will cook in its own seam.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through. Check by inserting the point of a small knife into the flesh. It should be tender, and the flesh should separate from the central bone when pieced with the knife. Using a large hamburger spatula, transfer the whole fish to a serving platter, and set aside in a warm (about 150 degrees) oven while you complete the recipe.

Pour the fish cooking juices and vegetable solids into a small saucepan, and discard the bay leaves. You should have 3/4 to 1 cup of liquid; cook down or add water to adjust yield to this amount. Bring to a boil on top of the stove, and add the butter spoonful by spoonful, incorporating each piece into the mixture with a whisk before you add another piece. Remove the saucepan from the heat, add the lemon juice and additional salt and pepper to taste.

At serving time, pull or scrape off the skin on top of the fish with a small paring knife. Coat the fish with the sauce, and sprinkle the chives on top. Bring to the table, and carve for the guests. This dish is excellent served with tiny steamed potatoes or sautéed cucumbers.

Copyright © 2003 by Jacques Pépin, Houghton Mifflin Company