French in a Flash: Whole Fish in Fines Herbes Sauce

[Photograph: Kerry Saretsky]

My boyfriend's whole English family came over for an early Christmas lunch yesterday, and I, a non-Christian American, was faced with the challenge of festively feeding eight avid British holiday revelers.

Traditionally, the English make a grand version of their weekly Sunday roast for Christmas: a huge turkey or goose, or a big roast beef or ham done with carrots, Yorkshire pudding, crispy roast potatoes and sprouts, and the all-important, all-drowning gravy. It's just not really what I love to eat, and I can only serve what I what I love to eat.

So I did a playful take on the English Christmas roast: Instead of a whole bird or joint, I roasted whole fish, soaked overnight in a fabulous, fresh sauce of fines herbes, and roasted it with whole cherry tomatoes right on the vine.

Fines herbes is a French combination that goes gorgeously with fish: parsley, chervil, tarragon, and chives. Delicate herbs, that would wither under a steady stare. Blended with nothing but olive oil, the sauce is vibrantly green, and roasted along with the bauble-like cherry tomatoes they make a festive—thought not gimmicky—play on Christmas colors.

Each person gets a whole fish served with some of the fresh herb sauce on the side instead of gravy. I served it with seared and steamed potatoes with parsley, and butter-soaked Savoy cabbage.

The herbs and olive oil soak into the flesh of the fish, and you get the wonderful freshness of the parsley, the anise of the tarragon and chervil, and the mild onion hit of the chives into every crack of the blistered fish flesh. Mop up the juices with crusty, rugged bread, and pop a cherry tomato in your mouth and feel it burst. You rarely get so much freshness in winter—you'll get up from the table ready to celebrate instead of nap. 'Tis the season to try something new.

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Whole Fish in Fines Herbes Sauce »