Quenelles are really just fishballs in French, so there’s nothing that should scare you here. You aim for a super light texture (very contrary to their Asian cousins), but if you don’t quite achieve it, there’s still nothing lost and you will probably enjoy them just as much. If you’re making them for guests, my advice is to pretend whatever texture they turn out to be is the exact one you were aiming for. This is one of the great Sunday Lunch dishes. You can serve it individually plated, or in a tray in the middle of the table. You can make it in advance and gratinate it in a hot oven. You can even pre-cook the quenelles and then deep fry them and serve them with a light tomato sauce! I like serving them very simply around the still hot pot of freshly made sauce. The more splattered and untidy it looks, the better I like it.
The real traditional quenelles are made with a mixture of béchamel, panada and fish paste, but that’s too much bother in my books, so I’ve developed this mousseline type quenelles that are easy and fast to make, quick to boil and delicious to eat. Plus, the bones will make your sauce, so it’s an all in one dish!
It is essential that you buy really fresh fish, so if that can’t be found, skip this recipe and make jam instead. Get the fishmonger to scale and fillet the fish for you. Even if he is the lousiest monger in town, he can’t spoil your fillets, because you’re going to turn them into paste anyway! There are two parts to this recipe, the quenelles and the sauce. I suggest you make the quenelles first, chill the paste while you start on the stock, shape the quenelles and keep them covered in the chiller while you finish the sauce. Don’t add the lemon juice and just leave all this to be finished 20 minutes before you want dinner to be on the table.
Smoked Salmon Ricotta Quenelles
makes 12 generous quenelles, enough for a good starter for 6
- 300g seabass fillets, skinned, trimmed weight (2 medium fish)
- 100g smoked salmon
- 3g salt
- white pepper
- freshly grated nutmeg
- 3 small egg whites
- 150g ricotta
- 150g liquid cream
Put the bowl and lid of your food processor or blender into the chiller. Make sure the seabass fillets are perfectly trimmed and washed of all scales. You may want to cut out the darkest part of the bloodline. Cut the trimmed seabass fillets into smallish pieces. This will make is easier for you to blend them. The weight should be 300g-315g. Anything more and you will need to adjust the rest of the ingredient weights.
Cut the smoked salmon into dice and add it to your fish. Put the fish and smoked salmon on a flat plate and put it into the freezer for about half an hour to make sure the fish is very cold. Both the ricotta and the cream should be as cold as possible without being frozen. Put all the fish salmon into the food processor, add the salt, white pepper and nutmeg and pulse to a fine paste. Once done, feel the paste to make sure it is still perfectly cold. If it isn’t, or if you’re not sure, put the bowl of the food processor and all its contents into the freezer for 15 minutes. Now add half the egg whites (you can whisk them lightly to make them easier to pour) and pulse again. Add the rest of the egg whites and pulse again.
Check the temperature of your mix. If it is cold, add the ricotta and pulse again, then add the cream and pulse one more last time. Chill the mix for at least an hour. You can speed this up by putting it into the freezer, but try not to forget it…
The traditional recipe now asks you to push this through a fine strainer, but I think it is really not necessary and it is truly a devil of a task, so don’t.
Using two tablespoons, shape the mix into quenelles. You can do all this in advance and keep the shaped quenelles covered in the chiller for one day. When ready to serve, bring a pot of well salted water to a simmer and poach the quenelles in the barely simmering water for 10-15 minutes. They should feel perfectly firm and springy. Remove and serve, or chill for later use.
Fennel Cream Sauce
- heads and bones of 2 medium seabass
- 1 fennel bulb
- 1 leek
- 1 medium onion
- 2 celery branches
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- salt & white pepper
- 25g butter
- 150ml dry white wine
- 300g liquid cream
- juice of 1 lemon
Wash and dry the fish heads and bones. Dice the fennel bulb, leek and onion. Melt the butter in a saucepan and sweat the vegetables in the butter without browning them. This should take about three minutes. Now add the fish bones to the pan and continue to fry until the bones are pretty much cooked, another 3-4 minutes. Turn up the heat, deglaze with the wine and leave to evaporate completely. Now add about 1 litre of water, just enough to cover the fish and vegetables. We will want to reduce the stock to just 150ml, so the more you add now, the longer you will need to cook it down.
Bring the stock to a simmer and gently cook uncovered for one hour. Strain the stock through a fine strainer and then strain it again through a cloth. You want the stock to be as clear as possible. Put the stock back into a pot and reduce to about 150ml. Pour the cream into another saucepan and simmer to reduce by two thirds to very thick, You do unfortunately have to watch and stir this all the time, or it will burn and you won’t be able to use it.
Off the heat, gently pour the reduced stock into the reduced cream, stirring all the time. Your sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If it isn’t, simmer to reduce it further. Turn off the heat and leave to rest a few minutes, then slowly and carefully add the strained lemon juice, adjust the seasoning and strain the sauce one more time. You’re ready to serve.
I have served my quenelles with white asparagus that I bought ready made in a jar, but you could just decorate your plate with a few salad leaves, a small raw fennel salad or even just an oven baked tomato! Serve them with rice, if you want to turn it into a meal.