Serious Eats: Recipes

French in a Flash: Bernadette's Poisson à la Crème

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[Photographs: Kerry Saretsky]

Sometimes, in the year and a half I've been writing this column, I totally lack inspiration. What am I going to make this week? That's what happened yesterday. So I asked my for-all-intents-and-purposes beau-père what dishes he loved most growing up in Normandy, and he said without hesitation his mother Bernadette's poisson with cream.

He told me that his mother mixed cream and ketchup and poured it over fish. Ketchup? "Ketchup?" I asked him.

"Yes, ketchup."

"Don't you mean tomato paste?" I pressed.

"Yes, tomato paste!" I always remember from that seminal I Love Lucy episode with the escargots that the French hate ketchup, which is of course not entirely true, but I was still shocked that it might be mixed with cream to smother fish. Turns out, even kitchen condiments are lost in translation. Either way, I could tell that I wasn't going to get anything exact about this recipe from those closest to its source.

So, I set about making my own interpretation, which I think turned out quite successful. In Normandy, everything is about the cream and the butter, and this recipe proves that cream and fish make a good dinner. I lay skinless, boneless fillets of white fish in a hot baking dish, and pour over a mixture of garlic and crème fraîche. As it all bakes together, the garlic becomes fragrant and the cream bubbles up and turns golden around the edges. The juices from the fish as it cooks mingle with the cream, and create a thinner, flavorful sauce. I then top the bubbling dish with freshly shredded basil and just-burst grape tomatoes for a sweet-tart counter to the rich cream. Dinner is ready in less than 15 minutes, and it's light and decadent all at once.

Thanks, Bernadette, for the inspiration!

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About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way. She also writes the The Secret Ingredient series for Serious Eats.

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