My tickets had been booked for over three months and now it looked like it wasn’t going to happen.
In fact, that plane ticket had already been cancelled just hours before. This would be the third cancelled trip in 6 months. This time the trip was to Florida with a desperately-needed pow wow with two of my best friends from college. Two days before the trip one of those friends took ill and wasn’t likely to get better before it was time to fly.
And so I set out to make my consolation meal. When I get into these moods where only food can save the day, I have to reign myself in and set some arbitrary limitations. This time, I decided it had to be seafood and it had to be rich, supremely rich.
I thought I would cook something from a small book I’ve had for ages called Impressionist Picnics, which one of the aforementioned friends gave to me in college. But nothing there would suit the mood so moved to The Art of Cuisine instead, a book that never fails to cheer me up.
And that’s where I found the recipe for sole with white wine. Unlike many other of Toulouse Lautrec’s concoctions, this was a relatively simple cook yet met my rich requirements. Better yet, there was an interpretation from Saveur, Sole au vin blanc which made things much more straightforward.
In either case the recipe consists of a filet of fish, smothered in three types of seafood, mushrooms, herbs, wine and eight – yes, eight – tablespoons of butter. If you’re going to be consoled by a dish, you could do worse.
The butter is layered throughout the dish – it’s used to fry the breadcrumbs and herbs and it is dotted generously along with wine in the sauce for the fish. I used what was available in the store that day: prawns, clams, mussels, tilapia and oyster mushrooms.
Now, I’m not one to feel guilt around food. My food philosophy tends to go something along the lines of:
· Enjoy – don’t waste time and calories on bad or mediocre food
· Keep it balanced – couple loads of meat with loads of veg, etc
· And, don’t get too stuffed because it’s uncomfortable
That said, 8 tablespoons of butter made even me pause. Happily, this was just the week that butter seemed to come back into favour. Also it’s really just delicious.
I served the dish with crusty bread and a salad that I had marinating while cooking the seafood (see second food philosophy bullet point) and a good French Riesling.
Afterward I sat afterwards with awed hubby, in a pleasant, satisfied glow.
Then, the phone rang.
My friend was better, the trip was back on and tickets were still available for purchase at the same price. An hour later the whole thing was reconfirmed, leaving just enough time to sleep and throw a swimsuit in a bag.
And so, just like that, I was on my way to a beach in Florida.
See how butter is magic?
Tilapia with mushrooms and shellfish
Makes 2 servings
8 tbsp. lightly-salted butter
3 tbsp. bread crumbs
1 tbsp. minced parsley
½ tsp. minced thyme
350g skinless fillets tilapia
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
120g oyster or shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1/3 cup dry Riesling
170g medium prawns, peeled and deveined, tails removed
8 littleneck clams, scrubbed
8 mussels, scrubbed
Melt 1 tbsp butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook bread crumbs until golden, 1–2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the herbs.
Add 3 tbsp butter to skillet and melt over medium-high heat. Season the tilapia with salt and pepper. Cook it, flipping it once, until cooked through. Transfer the tilapia to 2 plates and keep warm.
Melt the remaining butter in the skillet and add the mushrooms. Cook for about 5 minutes until the mushrooms have softened.
Add the wine, shrimp, cockles, mussels, salt, and pepper. Cook, covered, until the shells open and the shrimp is cooked through.
Spoon the mixture over the sole and sprinkle the bread crumbs on top. If you have any leftover herbs, sprinkle those over too for more colour.
Adopted from Saveur magazine.