Here is a great, light, big-flavor, very traditional Creole dish that is served almost nowhere anymore. It’s one of the few dishes that pair tomatoes with seafood that I actually think is good. In this case, very, very good.
“Courtbouillon” means “brief boil,” which describes the final step. However, I find I get much better results by finishing the dish in the oven instead of on top of the stove, and the process from there takes about an hour–which is not what I would call brief. My version veers further from the standard by lightening up on roux, and adding a few flavors from the Italian spectrum. These add a taste dimension without deeply altering the dish.
You need to make fish stock for this, so wait until you have whole fish to work with. You can make a courtbouillon of any fish that poaches well, but for some reason you can’t say “courtbouillon” without prefacing it with “redfish.” Drum, sheepshead, lemonfish, and striped bass would also work well.
- 1 medium redfish, filleted, about 2 1/2 lbs.
- 1 bunch parsley, stems only
- Tops of a bunch of celery
- 1/2 onion, cut up
- 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 medium onions, chopped coarsely (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 2 ribs celery, chopped
- 1/2 fennel bulb, chopped
- 1 small, ripe red bell pepper, seeds and membranes removed, coarsely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 4 whole canned plum tomatoes, chopped
- 1/2 cup of juice from canned tomatoes
- 2 medium fresh, ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- 1/2 cup dry white wine (best: Sauvignon Blanc)
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp. thyme
- 1/4 tsp. allspice
- 1 tsp. salt-free Creole seasoning
- Juice of one small lemon, strained
- 6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
- 1 Tbs. Louisiana hot sauce
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 green onions, green parts only, finely sliced
1. 1. Put all the fish bones, heads, skins, and scraps into a stockpot and cover with cold water. Bring it to a boil, then dump the water, saving all the fish parts.
2. Refill the pot with just enough water to barely cover the fish parts. Add all the other stock ingredients, and bring to the lightest possible simmer, with bubbles breaking only occasionally. Hold the stock at that temperature, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. Skim off the scum.
3. In a large, stainless steel or enamel skillet (for which you have a cover, though you don’t need it just now), heat the olive oil over medium-high heat till it shimmers. Add the flour and make a blond roux, stirring constantly. Add the onions, celery, fennel, bell pepper and garlic. Lower heat to medium and cook, stirring now and then, until the vegetables are soft.
4. Add the tomatoes, tomato juice, and wine. Bring to a boil while stirring lightly for about two minutes. Add all the other ingredients except the green onions, plus one quart of fish stock. Return to a very light boil, and hold there for about fifteen minutes.
5. Cut the redfish fillets into pieces about four ounces each. Place them atop the sauce, and season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan and put it into the oven at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. The fish should be tender but not falling apart.
6. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve with plenty of the sauce in wide bowls. Garnish with green onions. It’s great to have garlic bread with this.
Serves six to eight.