BC&B: Gratin de Morue w/ Tartines de Pistou et Poisson Fumé la Boutarde

Is this the first fish course I made from this book? It may be, and it’s because I took a look at the first recipe in this chapter and thought “well, OK, that sounds good, but… not now.”

But now is now. Or a couple of days from now, because the main ingredient here is salt semi-dried cod (like the one you use for bacalao).

Look! Salty!

So it has to be watered out for two to three days to become edible. While that’s in the fridge (remind me to change the water a couple of times), I can perhaps make a starter…

The starter today is as simple as it’s odd: It’s pesto (sorry, I mean pistou) and smoked trout on toast.

I love pesto (I mean pistou) and I like trout, so why not? I’ve never had them together in this form, though — sometimes you get smoked salmon with a dollop of pesto (I mean pistou no I mean pesto) on top, but here you’re supposed to use the pesto (I mean pistou) as a spread and then have some smoked trout on top. The oddness for me is both the amount of pesto (I mean etc) and the used of smoked trout: Won’t the pesto (I etc) overpower the more vague flavour of trout?

So those are the ingredients: Mostly for the pistou (I mean pesto now I’m confused).

So I plonk all the basil (“Basil?”) leaves from an entire plant into the FUD professor, and add pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil. Half a cup of olive oil. Isn’t that a bit much?

But man, how delicious this smells! It’s like the best smell in the world. I should make pesto (etc) from scratch more often.

Hm, yes, it’s a bit on the runny side… and… I used a too-flavourful olive oil. It’s my favourite olive oil; it’s super-tasty, but here it actually masks the beautiful basil flavour, so I should have used something less premium.

Then it’s time to eat. Gorgeous trout, good bread, a rosé and the book.

So smear the pesto (e) over the toast…

… and add the smoked trout.

Well, it looks good.

*eating happens*

OK, my worries were warranted, wright. The trout is delicious, and the pistou () is good, but together they don’t add much to each other. I have a hard time tasting the trout: It’s mostly there as a texture.

But I found myself eating piece by piece until I’d eaten almost half the trout, so it had great muncheability. Which is great, because my mains are two days away. So I think the idea is basically sound, but perhaps with smoked salmon instead?

So while waiting for the cod to get less salty, I could read a book. The next on in the bookcase is Irontown Blues by John Varley, an author I used to follow religiously, but then sort of forgot about.

Back in the 80s, it seemed like he was part of a wave of smart, fun sci-fi/fantasy, along with people like John Crowley (Little, Big), Geoff Ryman (Was) and Samuel Delany (lotsabooks). Then he stopped writing, and when he came back after ten years, he was writing 50s-like space adventures.

Writing them well, but a 180° turnaround. And then I forgot about him: I haven’t read anything he’s read the past couple of decades.

But he’s been publishing all this time, and this is his latest novel. Let’s read the first three pages together.

Hey! This is pretty fun. It’s very sci-fi, and it’s extremely retro (both textually and subtextually).

It’s about a private eye on the moon.

That’s like the perfect thing.

It’s perhaps too cute for its own good: We get pages and pages of stuff told from the private eye’s dog’s viewpoint. Granted, the dog has been artificially augmented and is pretty smart (for a dog), but it’s perhaps a bit much.

Or perhaps not: The problem isn’t the cuteness of it all, but that we basically go over most things that happen twice: Once from a human perspective, and then from the dog’s perspective. It’s fun, but it means that a lot of space is taken up with things that do not progress the plot.

And, oy vey, the plot is just wincingly moronic. At about page 200 I was starting to wonder whether the book was ever going to start for real (not a good sign in a 290 page book), and then it turned out that everything we’d been reading so far didn’t really have anything much to do with anything. I’d like to think this was all planned by the author as a sort of comment on something, but realistically it was just the author writing cute stuff about dogs and private eyes and having fun and then suddenly thinking “OOPS! I have to make a plot happen… er… I’ll just say that everything was just nonsense but had to happen that way because reasons” and then racing to the finish line.

So it’s not really put together well, but it’s a delight to read. I was smiling most of the time while reading it. Well, most of the time; it’s a sloppy book and there’s repetitions and logical mistakes and some of the humour gets a bit grating. But mostly: Fun.

The salt (and dried) cod has now been somewhat desalinated, so I can get ready to make the gratin. Man, am I hungry! Waiting two days for food.

The ingredients are not very complicated. It’s basically milkish stuff, potato, egg yolks and thyme. And Stargate: SG1 and beer, but that’s for the cook.

Mmm… that thyme smells so lovely. I bought some new special scissors for snipping herbs, and it works really well. A lot less work than chopping herbs with a knife.

So basically both the egg/herb pot and the pot with the cod are brought up to the boiling point, and then allowed to sit for fifteen minutes.

Then the potatoes are added to the milky stuff, and then simmers for twenty minutes.

After cooling off a bit, the egg yolks (whisked together with the creme fraîche) are added.

Meanwhile the cod is ripped to shreds. It’s sort of semi-cooked at this point, and man, it smells absolutely divoon. It might just be my unspeakable hunger er speaking, though.

So a gratin dish is buttered up…

And then one layer of eggy/milky/potato stuff, one layer of fish, and topped up with a layer of (you guessed it) the eggy/milky/potato stuff.

And look: There’s no cheese in here! Yay!

Then into the oven for forty-five minutes.

Oops! I forgot to get some salad to go with it… I’ll just fake it with some tomatoes.

There.

Ooo! It’s delicious! I don’t think I’ve had a gratin made with salt and dried cod before — only with fresh cod. This is something quite different! The cod is nice and tender and tasty, but with more structure. The thyme/milk sauce is subtle, but unexpectedly complex when combined with the potatoes and the fish.

It’s a perfect way to consume these ingredients. If you like salt and dried cod, this really makes it shine.

I think this is the most successful dish (both in conception and my not-very-expert execution) so far. I ate until I literally died.

This blog post is part of the Bistro
Cooking & Books
series.

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