Cooking The Whole Fish

My mother and I both loved Paris and several times had the pleasure of being there together—either meeting there or traveling there. However we met up, we never let the opportunity go by without a visit to our favorite restaurant, La Boule D’Or, in the 7th arrondisement.

Cooking the whole fishLa Boule D’Or was a small family restaurant with one Michelin star.  The food was simple and absolutely delicious, and nothing was more delicious than their poached fish entrée (entrée means first course in France).  What arrived at your table was a soup bowl containing a piece of white poached fish sitting in cream sauce—and not a few splatters of sauce, but at least a cup of the smooth elixir. It was more like a piece of fish sitting in a bowl of soup. That was it—no vegetables, no garnish, not even parsley. When you imbibed that heavenly sauce, you just felt good all over.

Later, when we lived in Paris, I took a cooking class sponsored by the American Women in Paris.  The teacher was Irish so naturally he taught a cuisine that was classically French—this was a time when France had turned her back somewhat on the traditional dishes and embraced La Nouvelle Cuisine, the chief fault of which was that it skimped on the sauce.  Instead of enough sauce to coat every piece of meat or fish and then mop up the rest with your bread, the sauce came in measly dots on the plate, supposedly healthier than sauce by the cupful .

I learned so much from that class—how to make cream of vegetable soup, how to break down a duck and prepare the magret (duck breast) and confit (preserved duck leg), how to make a successful souflée (cook it in individual ramekins) and quiche (not too thick).  But the absolute star recipe was Filet de Bar Sauce Velouté—filet of sea bass with creamy sauce. The sauce was identical to the velouté that we luxuriated in at La Boule d’Or.  The only difference was the addition of a julienne of vegetables on top of the fish, which I think adds a bit of color and interest.

I prepared this recipe recently for a Master Class given at Wise Traditions, the 18th annual conference of the Weston A. Price Foundation, and everyone agreed, you haven’t lived until you have tasted this creamy fish sauce.

Ideally you start with a whole fish, about 5 pounds, or two smaller fish, 2-3 pounds each. Whomever catches the fish for you—or whomever you buy it from–should gut the fish and remove the scales and gills.  You can also ask them to remove the filets, but is it not hard to do yourself if you have a good sharp, flexible knife, called a fish fileting knife.  Start at the top of the fish and gently remove the flesh from the ribs, being careful to always point the knife away from you. There’s no need to remove the skin.

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Sea bass is best—it has smooth white flesh, but almost any non-oily fish will do.  I used rock fish for this recipe and the class. Here’s the recipe:

Fish filets with julienne of vegetables and cream sauce
Serves 6

1 whole fish, about 4-5 pounds, very fresh, gutted, with gills and scales removed
4 tablespoons butter
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 cup white wine or dry vermouth
1 small bunch fresh parsley
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon peppercorns
2 zucchinis, cut in a julienne
2 carrots, cut in a julienne
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 cups crème fraiche

Remove the filets from the fish and cut into 6-8 equal pieces.  Place the filets skin side down in a pyrex casserole that has been brushed with melted butter.  Brush filets with melted butter, sprinkle with salt and cover with the julienne of zucchini and carrots.  Cover and reserve in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, gently cook the chopped onion and carrot in 4 tablespoons butter. When the vegetables are soft, add 1 cup white wine or dry vermouth and bring to a boil. Add the fish carcass and enough water to cover the carcass.  Tie the parsley and bay leaves together and add to the pot.  Bring to a boil and skim any scum that comes to the top.  Reduce to a simmer and add the peppercorns.  Cover and simmer ½ hour.

Remove the fish carcass from the soup and set aside.  Strain about 12 cups of the stock into a large stainless steel frying pan and bring to a boil. Skim any scum that comes to the top. (Reserve remaining stock for soup.) Add the crème fraiche and boil vigorously, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reduces to the thickness of heavy cream and coats a wooden spoon.  Meanwhile, bake the fish in a 350 degree oven about 10 minutes or until cooked through.  Keep the fish warm until serving time.

To serve, place a piece of fish with julienne of vegetables in a shallow soup bowl and pour the sauce over and around the fish. Serve with potato wedges cooked in goose fat.

A few notes:

  • You can prepare everything ahead of time except baking the fish. Just before dinner, bake the fish. When you reheat the sauce (gently), stir with a whisk to remove any lumps and add a little water if necessary. Your guests will think you are a magician!
  • If you have frozen fish stock, you can make this dish very quickly. Buy the fish filets and cook as above.  Meanwhile, bring 3 quarts stock to a boil with 2 cups crème fraiche, and reduce as described above.
  • The details count in this recipe. The one carrot used in making the stock adds just the right amount of sweetness. Most recipes would call for fresh thyme sprigs in the bouquet garni, but I find that overpowers the delicate taste of the sauce. However, I do use more parsley than is usually called for.
  • Classic French cookbooks would call for poaching the fish in fish stock. But I find that you then have to contend with mopping up all the poaching liquid to prevent diluting the sauce.  Baking solves the problem and works just as well.
  • This sauce is good for you! Remember that old South American proverb, “Fish broth will cure anything.” What a wonderful way to be cured!
  • You will have leftover fish stock that you can use to make fish soup. After the fish carcass has cooled, pick off the remaining flesh.  Chop it fine and add to the stock, along with any leftover julienne of zucchini and carrot.  Serve with a good quality miso.

You can read about my adventures in Paris in my book An American Family in Paris, published by NewTrends Publishing.

A video of my Master Class will soon be posted at  Stay tuned!

Author: Sally Fallon Morell

Sally Fallon Morell is best known as the author of Nourishing Traditions®: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. This well-researched, thought-provoking guide to traditional foods contains a startling message: animal fats and cholesterol are not villains but vital factors in the diet, necessary for normal growth, proper function of the brain and nervous system, protection from disease and optimum energy levels.

5 thoughts on “Cooking The Whole Fish”

  1. This sounds delicious Sally and I look forward to making it. I too have fond memories of fish dishes in Paris restaurants, almost all of which are served with beautiful creamy sauces. Thank you for the recipe!

  2. Thank you very much madame Fallon!

    I learned so much from you! I allways tell my children that “nourishing traditions” is the best cookbook of the world!
    I grew up in France and it influenced my tastebuds!
    Four kids later i got more interested in easy and quick recipes to gain time.
    But an autoimmun disease forced me to take time to cook.

    Could you please tell me how to replace the wine in general ( there is a lot in french cuisine!) and especially in this recipe?
    Another question i have:
    I’m convinced that dairyproducts have to be raw to be healthy. What about cooking the creme fraiche? Should it not be add only at the end ?

    Thank you very much,


  3. The confit de canard recipe you list in your book does not include cooking the duck legs before storing them in the fat. Is this correct?

    1. That is an unfortunate omission. After putting them in the fat, then bake in a 350 oven for about 1 hour. Then they can be stored in a fridge for a long time.

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