07 May 2011

Vinho Verde Poached Fish

If I were Keats, or Byron, or Camões, I would write an ode to Vinho Verde.  Sadly I cannot, since I would never do it justice.  It is a bubbly, tangy Portuguese white wine, best when served very cold on a very hot day.  And as luck would have it, there are many hot days in Portugal.  So, while there can be no ode, I will find every reason I can to have a bottle in the house now that the 82-degree weather that is spring in Lisbon has arrived.

One of those completely justifiable, not-at-all fabricated reasons?  To play around with Julia Child's white wine poaching of fish.

So, one warm Saturday afternoon, I set about making us an unusually elegant lunch while cooking and sipping Vinho Verde in equal measure.  I think it is a testament to Julia's precise and perfect instructions that even with the handicap of the wine-drinking and my inexperience with sauces, it still turned out utterly delicious. (Errr... with the Portuguese wine taking center stage in the sauce, I guess we can change that to simplesmente maravilhoso.)

It was fish, sure, but like a fish which had been living in Paris for a few years, taken to wearing 4-inch heels effortlessly and running an up-and-coming atelier in an elegant arrondissement.  Posh Fish.

Does that sound strange?

Well, maybe it's all about perspective.  Because after quite a few recipes with the briny, forceful flavor of salted cod, Bacalhau Boy and I both enjoyed the freshness of the Vinho Verde sauce with a perfectly poached mild whitefish and some buttery mushrooms.

Portuguese, but with a Parisian accent.

Oui, oui.

Vinho Verde Poached Fish
adapted from Julia Child's Filets de Poisson Bercy aux Champignons
serves 6

Note:  According to the official Vinho Verde site, this wine is becoming more popular and available in the US.  In case that is just marketing propaganda and your local shop doesn't carry it, you can also find it online at sites like this one.

3 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 Tbsp butter*
2 Tbsp minced shallots or green onions
2 lbs skinless and boneless filets of a mild white fish such as flounder, sole, halibut, etc.
salt and pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp of cold butter, diced
1 1/4 cup Vinho Verde
1/4 cup water
Wax or Parchment Paper
2 1/2 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp soft butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
Juice from 1 lemon
1/4 cup grated Swiss cheese
1 Tbsp cold butter, diced

*in total, you will need about 8 Tbsp (1 stick) of butter.  I have divided it above as Julia does, so you have what you need at the temp you need it as you cook.

1. Melt 2 tbsp of butter in a sauté pan and add the mushrooms.  Cook on high heat for a minute or two, until lightly browned.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).  In a stovetop- and oven-safe pan, sprinkle half the shallots. Season the fillets lightly with salt and pepper and arrange in slightly overlapping layers in the dish. If the edges are thinner than the centers, fold the edges under a bit so it will cook evenly.  Sprinkle the fillets with the rest of the shallots and dot with pieces of the 1 1/2 tbsp of butter.

3. Top the fish with the mushrooms.  Pour in the wine and enough water so that the filets are barely covered. Gently lay a circular cut of wax or parchment paper, covering the whole baking dish, on top of the fish.  Bring everything to almost a simmer on top of the stove.  Then transfer the dish to the bottom third of the preheated oven, and let cook for 8-12 minutes depending on the thickness of the filets.  Julia warns that the fish is done "when a fork pierces the flesh easily... the fish should not be dry and flaky."

4. Drain the poaching liquids into a saucepan. (I did this by transferring my fish and mushrooms to a pretty baking dish and pouring the liquid through a strainer into a saucepan.)  Rapidly boil down the liquid until it is reduced to about 1 cup.

5. In the meantime, mix the flour and 3 tbsp of butter until it is a smooth paste.  Once the liquid has boiled down, take it off the heat and whisk in the flour-butter and 1/2 cup of cream.  Put the saucepan back on the heat, and bring to a boil. Use the extra cream to thin out the sauce until it nicely coats the back of a spoon.  Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

6. Spoon the sauce over the fish.  Sprinkle on the cheese and dot the top with the remaining butter.  Place dish back in the oven, 6 inches under a hot broiler for 2-3 minutes until the top browns lightly.

7. Serve immediately with some crusty bread, light greens, boiled new potatoes, and (of course) a big, cold glass of vinho verde.


  1. This looks delicious! Also, yes --we've been able to find a few different brands of vinho verde here at our local market, wineshop, and at Whole Foods!

    The kitchn actually did a whole write up as well. (I consider this my ahead of the trend moment as we were all over this last summer once we returned from Lisbon!) http://www.thekitchn.com/thekitchn/wine/spring-has-arrived-time-for-some-deliciously-crisp-vinho-verde-wines--144114

  2. Woo hoo! I always knew you were an ahead of trend girl, but now we have a timeline of proof... :)