• Posted by Califia Suntree on January 5th, 2007, 5:13 PM

    happy new year everyone! i hope 2007 is tasty and filled with good stuff and wrapped in golden pastry. that is, i hope your new year is rather like this coulibiac i made for one christmas dinner (no photo unfortunately!)…life should really be more like pie.

    it’s always a challenge to make a dramatic centerpiece for a meal without meat. the leg of lamb, roasted turkey, or crown roast makes an obvious focus of attention. my quest for a meatless centerpiece lead one year to an entree of cheese fondue accompanied by my mom’s turkey-shaped loaf of brioche. that was fun. but variety is the spice and all that, so another year, i went for coulibiac. if you really get into the sculptural potential of puff pastry, this loaf of fish (hah) is a perfect focus for your meat-free feast. (note! it is not just for christmas, but is certainly a fall-winter dish.)

    this recipe for russian fish pie is gleaned from what i consider the best of many sources: my memory of the delicious ones turned out by the cleaver company, my former employer, and lots of reading about coulibiac and its many, many forms. some say that you make it with salmon and spinach so as to make festive red and green stripes when you cut it open. i find salmon a tad too strong, but it’s up to you. salmon-lovers should go for it.

    coulibiac with white wine & dill sauce
    (to serve 6 to 8 )

    filling:
    1 cup cooked wild rice
    1 cup cooked long grain rice
    1 1/2 pounds or so firm fish fillets (i use sea bass or halibut)
    about 1 cup veggie broth
    lemon slices
    some garlic
    2 bunches spinach (or 1 box frozen)
    olive oil
    salt & pepper
    12 ounces or so fresh mixed mushrooms
    2 shallots
    1 tablespoon unsalted butter

    1 box frozen puff pastry
    flour
    1 egg mixed with a little milk

    sauce:
    4 tablespoons unsalted butter
    1 shallot
    1 cup white wine
    1 cup or so reserved poaching liquid
    salt & pepper
    1 bunch fresh dill
    flour

    the afternoon of the day you plan to serve your coulibiac, cook the rices separately and stir them together (this can be done the day before). poach the fish in a wide, deep pan. fill the pan with vegetable broth diluted with a little water (it should come halfway up the fillets), and toss in some lemon slices and a few peeled and smashed garlic cloves. cover the pan tightly and put it in a 350-degree oven. depending on the thickness of the fillets, the poaching should only take about 20 minutes. the fish should be just opaque, even a bit underdone. let it cool in the poaching liquid.

    thoroughly wash the spinach and chop the leaves (or, defrost the frozen stuff). sautée the spinach in a little olive oil until it is quite wilted. season with salt and pepper. leave it to drain (refrigerated) in a colander set over a bowl, squeezing out the water periodically.

    clean and slice the mushrooms and dice 2 shallots. heat 1 tablespoon butter and about 2 tablespoons olive oil in a pan and sautée the shallots until translucent. add the sliced mushrooms and cook until they turn brown and tender, seasoning them along the way. pour off any excess water, and stir the mushrooms into the rices. taste for seasoning and set aside.

    about 2 or 2 1/2 hours before dinnertime, set the pastry out to defrost (it takes about an hour). when the pastry is defrosted (but not warm!), tear off and attach one-third of one of the pastry sheets to the other, and roll it out on a floured board to about 12″ by 15″. set the oven to 375 and very lightly grease a large cookie sheet.

    while the oven warms up, assemble the pie: lay the rolled-out piece of pastry on the cookie sheet. spread the rice mixture in a strip along the bottom third, lengthwise. shape the rice into an eye-shaped oval (think: “fish”), leaving about an inch margin along the bottom and at the sides. really try to get it wider in the middle and to a point at the ends. flake the poached fish (reserve that poaching liquid!) and lay it evenly over the rice. lay the squeezed-out spinach on top of the fish.

    now comes the artistic part: fold up the inch or so of pastry along the bottom, and fold down the top two-thirds of the pastry over the filling. tuck and fold to maintain the oval shape, neatly sealing the pastry together. squeeze it more at the ends to get the fish shape. turn the fish over so the seam is underneath, and poke at it until it looks right. with a paring knife, carve some backwards “c” shapes into the sides (to make scales), and carve a small “gill” straight through the pastry to allow steam to escape.

    finally, lay out the remaining bit of pastry on the floured board. with your paring knife, cut out a tail and fins, an eye, lips, whatever you would like to adorn your fish. attach the anatomical details and brush the whole thing with the egg-milk mixture. bake it until quite golden and puffed all over, about 45 minutes (you will need to turn the pan midway through baking).

    while the coulibiac bakes, make your sauce: heat one tablepoon of butter in a non-reactive saucepan. finely dice and sautée the shallot in the butter. when the shallot is translucent, add the white wine and simmer gently until slightly reduced. add 3 tablespoons butter, one at a time, whisking after each addition. pour in about a cup of the poaching liquid until it tastes right (not too watery, not too wine-y), and simmer to concentrate the flavor. clip the dill leaves from the stems and finely chop them. stir into the sauce along with salt and pepper to taste. keep simmering, slowly whisking in flour a teensy-weensy bit at a time, until you get a nice, slightly thickened sauce. serve it hot alongside the coulibiac.

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