Crappie au Gratin Casserole & Fish Sauces

Vernon Summerlin

            Last month I ran out of space before I could offer you this au gratin casserole dish. You can use catfish, bass, striper or any freshwater fish you like, even trout, but a firm flesh holds together better.

            2 pounds skinless crappie fillets

            1/2 cup Madeira wine or 1/2 cup dry sherry

            Reserved fish stock (you’ll get this when fish cooks)

            2 tablespoons lemon juice

            Salt and pepper to taste

            2 tablespoons butter

            2 tablespoons flour

            1/2 teaspoon chicken bouillon granule

            1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

            1/3 cup whipping cream

            3/4 cup shredded Swiss cheese

            2 (10-ounce) packages spinach, thawed

 Preheat oven to 400°F. Rinse fish and pat dry. Fold fillets in half and place them in a large, shallow baking pan. Mix Madeira and lemon juice and pour over fish. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Bake in 400°F oven for about 15 to 20 minutes until fish flakes readily with a fork (baking time varies depending upon the thickness of your fillets). Remove from oven and drain off all liquid into a measuring cup. Add enough water to make 1 cup and set aside.

Melt butter in a pan over medium heat and stir in flour, chicken granules and mustard. Cook until bubbling. Using a whisk, add reserved fish stock and whipping cream gradually. Continue stirring until thickened and bubbly (about 8 to 10 minutes). Stir in 1/2 cup of the 3/4 cup of Swiss cheese; set aside.

Squeeze moisture out of spinach and arrange on the bottom of a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish and arrange fish on top. Sprinkle with remaining Swiss cheese. Preheat oven to 450°F and reheat sauce. Spoon sauce over fish and bake 7-8 minutes. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Fish Sauces

            Sauces are an essential element in cuisines all over the world. It can be a liquid, cream or semi-solid food served on or used in preparing other foods. They are not usually consumed by themselves. They add flavor, moisture and visual appeal to other dishes. Sauce is a French word taken from Latin meaning “salted”.

            Sauces may be used for savory dishes or desserts. They can be prepared and served cold, like mayonnaise, prepared cold but served lukewarm like pesto, or can be cooked like bechamel* and served warm or again cooked and served cold like apple sauce. Some sauces are industrial inventions like Worcestershire sauce, HP Sauce, or nowadays mostly bought ready-made like soy sauce or ketchup, others still are freshly prepared by the cook. Sauces for salad are called salad dressings. A cook who specializes in making sauces is called a saucier.

            Here are four sauces that go tastily with fish.

Apple Horseradish Sauce

            4 tablespoons drained, squeezed dry, prepared horseradish

            3 tablespoons mayonnaise

            1 tablespoon cider vinegar

            2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard

            1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

            1 1/4 teaspoons sugar

            1/2 teaspoon salt

            Dash of cayenne pepper

            2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion

            1/4 cored, thinly sliced Granny Smith apple with peel

Whisk horseradish, mayonnaise, cider vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper in a large bowl until well blended. Add apple and onion, and fold in gently. Refrigerate for severed hours to allow the flavors to blend. Makes one cup. Serve over fish.

Lemon Parsley Sauce

            1/2 cup melted butter

            Juice of 1 lemon

            1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

            1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Melt butter, add lemon juice, lemon rind and parsley. Serve over fish.

Tangy Herb Sauce

            3/4 cup sour cream

            3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

            1 teaspoon basil

            1/2 teaspoon onion powder

            2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Mix sour cream, mustard, basil, onion powder and parsley well and serve over fish.

Spicy Honey Mustard Sauce

            Mix equal amounts of honey and mustard, and add horseradish to taste. Mix well and use for dipping or on sandwiches.

*Béchamel sauce, also known as white sauce, is made from a white roux (butter, flour and milk). It is one of the mother sauces of French cuisine. It is used as the base for other sauces (such as Mornay sauce, béchamel with cheese).

            The five modern mother sauces (set is early 1900s), or grandes sauces, are espagnole, velouté, hollandaise, sauce tomate and béchamel – all good with fish. From these “mothers” a large variety (many hundreds) of “daughter” sauces can be composed.