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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sauce! Poach!

When one thinks of French sauces, heavy, creamed-based sauces come to mind. And those folks who do think about French sauces (like me), who have cooked, then they probably grimace at the memory of a collapsed Hollandaise sauce or burnt beurre blanc. But not all French sauces are thick, creamy, and heavy (not that there is anything wrong with that—they have their time and place). But there are French sauces that don’t require constant stirring over a Windsor pan, sauces that are light and built upon fresh herbs and vinegar and olive oil—more like dressings than sauces. Two of these—one I’ve been using for several years and one I recently discovered—are Sauce Ravigote and Sauce Vierge.

Generally, sauce ravigotte refers to any vinaigrette with capers, herbs, and red onions. I’m not sure where I discovered this sauce, but it has served me well. It makes a great base for pasta salad, tomato salad, or crudités.  While there are as many different versions of sauce ravigotte as there as Parisian cafés, here’s my version:

Sauce Ravigote


¼ cup pure olive oil
½ cup vegetable oil
2 TBL tarragon vinegar
1 TBL Dijon mustard
1 TBL finely chopped parsley
1 TSP finely chopped thyme
1 TSP finely chopped shallots
1 TSP finely chopped white onion
A few capers
1 TSP kosher salt or 1/2 TSP regular granulated salt
½ TSP freshly cracked black pepper


This is very simple: put all ingredients in a 1-pint screw-top jar. Shake well. Nets ¾ cup

Pasta with Sauce Vierge
and some Bacon!
The latest sauce I’ve discovered is Sauce Vierge, which literally means “virgin sauce.” Like Sauce Ravigote, it comes in myriad varieties. The sauce is best if macerated (i.e., let it hang out in the fridge for a while). 
It works very well with seafood (more on that later), and on greens, tomatoes, or even pasta. 

Here’s the version from Eric Ripert that I tried recently:


1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 teaspoon finely minced shallot
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 tablespoon minced tarragon
1 tablespoon minced basil
1 tablespoon chopped capers
1 tablespoon chopped Nicoise olives
Juice of half a lemon


Place the extra virgin olive oil in a mixing bowl and add the shallot, parsley, tarragon, basil, capers and olives. Stir to combine the ingredients and transfer to a small container. The sauce can be made a couple hours ahead and kept at room temperature.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. 

A good friend of mine once told me that he almost always orders fish in a fine restaurant because it is the one thing he doesn’t cook at home (and my friend is a good cook!). The reason is that cooking fish is hard. Most fish is delicate and each one cooks differently. One can throw a tuna or swordfish steak on a grill at the beach in the summer with a beer in hand and not really think twice about it. But you would never do that with a Dover sole or a flounder. 

One of the best ways to cook fish, especially delicate fish, is by poaching. Poaching is a method of gently cooking food in a liquid at low temperatures (165-180℉). The liquid can be water, flavored with oil or butter, or stock. Poaching doesn’t impart the strong flavors as does other methods of cooking, such as sauté or roasting. Consequently, poached fish needs a fairly stout sauce to provide the flavor. This is where Sauce Vierge goes comes into play. 

Les filets du turbot pochés
a la sauce vierge aux tomates.
What kind of fish is good for poaching, or more importantly, what kind of fish is bad for poaching? Some fish have muscle enzymes that will make them mushy if they are cooked slowly: flatfish, tuna, mackerel, sardines, and tilapia. A good rule of thumb is that oily fish don’t take to poaching. (Oil and water don’t mix!) Fish that are good for poaching include halibut, turbot, sole, flounder, and salmon.  

Now, I don’t know about you, but I sucked at high school chemistry. The only way I got through it was that my lab partner was the salutatorian of my high school. God bless her! If you use butter or olive oil in your poaching water, then you should add an acid such as wine or lemon juice to balance the Ph. Without the acid, the butter or oil (an alkali) will turn the fish into an unappetizing yellowish or off-white color. 

Now, let’s put all this science to good use….

Going back to Ripert’s recipe, here’s how to poach fish for the Sauce Vierge (he used halibut; I used turbot, which is quite similar):

Place a large sauté pan on medium-low heat and add the water, the extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice, lightly season the liquid with salt and white pepper. Season the slices of halibut on both sides with salt and white pepper and place in a single layer in the warmed poaching liquid. The liquid should come about halfway up the fish, adjust if needed with more. Cook the fish for about 2-3 minutes, then flip the slices and cook on the other side until they are just warmed in the center.

One final note about poaching:  it doesn’t generate a lot of mess—no greasy pans or pots to soak or scrub, which for me is great because I’m notorious for tearing up a kitchen when I cook.

Bon appétit!

1 comment:

  1. I'm crude when it comes to cooking fish. I like to broil them until they're nice and crispy around the edges.