Immature Fish in Orange Herb Sauce

A second experiment from the weekend was a sauce for titiri, immature fish that Jean-Baptiste Labat describes as follows:

Ready to serve

The abundance and delicacy of this fish causes everyone to eat it, and it does not require much effort to give it a good taste. You can make do with boiling them in water with salt, chili, and a bundle of fine herbs. They have neither scales to remove nor stings to fear and they carry their own butter with them because though they are small, it does not stop them from being fat.

You also put them between two plates with a little fresh butter, fine herbs, pepper, salt, and orange skins and when they are ready to serve, you finish them with a sauce bound with an egg yolk and vinegar and grate a little nutmeg on top.

Of course, we do not actually catch fish larvae during spawning season any more, so it is not easy to replicate what this would have tasted like. I had hoped to get small sardines or whitebait of some kind, but the smallest fish the shop carried that day were immature milkfish. These are, of course, a Pacific species, but I still wanted to try the sauce and so I went ahead.

Ready to go

The technique of cooking the fish ‘between two plates’ is a familiar and traditional one in which two ceramic bowls are inverted over each other to produce an enclosed space, sometimes closed with water paste or clay, and placed near the fire. Today, this is easiest to replicate using a deep pan with a lid on a low heat. I melted butter in it, dropped in orange skin, herbs, salt and pepper, and added the fish one it was hot enough to gently cook it. As soon as the fish were cooked on one side, I flipped them over. After removing the orange skin, I added a good splash of vinegar and some water because I was concerned the whole was getting too dry. After another miunute of cooking, I removed the fish and tried to thicken the liquid with egg yolk. I mis-guessed badly and produced more of a scrambled egg than a sauce, but it tasted rather good. So I returned the fish to it and served it with a pinch of nutmeg.

I now assume the original dish is intended to be deeper and more liquid, and the fish, being quite small, will fall apart in cooking. The result would be a kind of fish stew rather than discrete fish in sauce, which I tried to acvhieve. But the taste was very good.

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