Thursday, April 12, 2007

John Dory with Tomato Cream Sauce

Looking at the hail beating down our study window makes it hard to believe that only yesterday the sun was shining and little green buds were starting to open on trees. I didn't know what I was going to cook when I got to the Fishmonger and Formaggio's, but I knew it was going to be springlike. After taking a look at the fish counter and noticing a great selection of my favorites -- bluefish, striper, halibut, tuna, and sword -- I spotted a fish I haven't met before. "And who might you be?" I asked the mystery fish. "That's John Dory," said the fishmonger lady pointing at the thin white fillets with pearly silver skin. "What's he like?" I asked. "He is kind of his own family. White, flaky, very nice flavor..." "Would you like to be today's dinner?" I asked John. He gladly agreed.

"Where is he from and how come I've never seen him before?" I asked her. "John Dory can come from all over, but this one is from North Atlantic," she said. "You might have seen it as St. Peter's fish," she added. I have heard the name, but haven't seen it in markets or restaurants before, so I was eager to try it.

To see what this little fish is all about, I simply seasoned it with salt and pepper and seared in a hot skillet with a little olive oil. The thin fillets were done in 3-4 minutes and I served them on a bed of Tomato Cream Sauce with Sugar Snap Peas. It was a lovely dish -- almost more summer than spring tasting, but I just couldn't pass those beautiful tomatoes from Formaggio Kitchen. I wonder where they get such yummy ones this time of year.

John Dory turned out perfectly -- sweet, delicate, and much more expressive than cod, haddock, or any of those sauce-vehicle type fish. I'd say it was somewhere in between the overly shy sole and an oily trout. The only thing I'd change next time would be to remove its skin. I cook most small and medium size fish with the skin when using direct high heat methods like searing and grilling. It turns crispy and very yummy like the skin on a roast chicken. But John Dory is another type of animal. Its skin didn't crisp up and just turned kind of gummy. Not a biggy, since it's easy to remove after the fish is done, but removing it before cooking would let me crisp up both sides of the fish. You can ask your fishmonger to skin the fillets for you, or you can do it yourself.

John Dory with Tomato Cream Sauce

Fish substitutions: any white or cream colored thin fish fillets like white trout, flounder, sole, and branzino. You can use thicker fish too, like striped bass, sable, cod, haddock, and hake, but you'll have to finish them in the 400F oven as they won't be cooked through enough by the time they brown on the outside.

Serves 4

For the fish:
4 John Dory fillets without skin (6 oz each)
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Chopped dill, parsley, or herb of your choice for garnish

For the sauce:
1 Tbsp butter
1 shallot, minced
1-1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (you can use any type of tomatoes as long as they are ripe or good quality canned tomatoes)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
3 Tbsp heavy cream
Salt and Pepper to taste

To make the sauce
  1. Set a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the butter and wait for it to melt. Add shallot and a pinch of salt. Cook stirring occasionally until translucent, 3-5 minutes.
  2. Add tomatoes, turn up the heat to high and cook until they sizzle, start to release their juices and get tender, but not mushy, 2-3 minutes.
  3. Stir tomatoes and pour the wine and water over them. Turn down the heat to low, cover, and simmer 5 minutes. During the last minute, you can add some sugar snap peas before uncovering tomatoes, adding cream, and finishing the sauce.
  4. Stir in cream and bring to a simmer uncovered. Take off heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.
To cook fish
  1. Dry the fish off very well with paper towels and season with salt and pepper on both sides.
  2. Set a large non-stick skillet over high heat. When hot, add the oil and wait a few seconds for it to heat up. Place the fish into the skillet with its better looking side down (if substituting fish with the skin, place it in the skillet skin side down). Cook until golden, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook until the fish almost flakes, but is still a little translucent at the center, another 1-2 minutes. The total cooking time should be about 8 minutes per inch of thickness.
  3. Divide the sauce between plates, top with the fish fillets, and garnish with herbs.


KitchenKiki said...

Looks & sounds delicious! Have begun thinking about tonight's dinner. Thanks for inspiration.

Joseph said...

John Dory isn't available in Colorado, so I substituted it wit catfish (it was the freshest white fish they had).

I think the dish tasted great, I just have two questions. First your photo doesn't show halved tomatoes with the sauce. Would you recommend leaving the tomatoes out of the finished dish?

Second, the sauce was very watery, is this what is expected? How would you recommend thickening up the sauce? My roommates and I thought about blending the tomatoes and sauce in a blender and adding flour, but we are definitely amateur cooks.

Helen said...

Hi Joseph,

Great job on the fish substitution! I am glad that unavailability of john dory didn't stop you from making this recipe.

About the tomatoes in the picture. They are there, just under the fish and after all the cooking, they are in small pieces.

If the sauce is too watery, try using less wine/water mixture or cooking it uncovered some to evaporate excess liquid. I tend to like my sauces brothy, but many people like them thicker. I wouldn't add flour because I don't want it to taste like gravy. If you do add flour, you have to do it correctly (make a roux and cook it before adding liquid). Otherwise, you'll get lumps, or an unpleasant floury taste, or both. Reducing the liquids, and increasing heavy cream are your best bets.


Anonymous said...

Love your site!! How can I incorporate your tomato cream sauce into a seafood risotto? I want to surprise my wife with her favorite dish (beside myself) on her birthday. Thank you for your time.

Helen said...

Wish I could help, but I don't know what you mean by a risotto with sauce. Risottos are not served with sauces (at least the classic Italian ones). This might be an Italian American dish, but I am not familiar with it.

Anonymous said...

Hello again Helen. Sorry I was wife always orders risotto mare e monte in tomato sauce which she changes to a blush sauce. The colour and texture in your photo looks similar. I will try to incorporate your recipe into the risotto and I'll let you know what happens (being a NOVICE cook). BTW, I've had a chance to check out your site...VERY INSPIRING!!! My printer is running out of ink!!! Thanks!!!

Helen said...

My guess is you can just throw tomatoes and cream into your risotto and you'll get the results you want. Add tomatoes in the beginning of cooking and add cream in the end when you get the texture of rice that you like. Most risottos look "saucy", but it's not usually a separate sauce, but the starch thickened stock coating the rice grains (this happens naturally during the risotto cooking process). Of course, I am only familiar with a few Italian regions, so quite possibly there is a risotto dish that involves a separate sauce.

Good luck :)