A quenelle is a mixture of creamed fish, or meat, which usually poached and sometimes combined with breadcrumbs, with a light egg binding. Lyon and Nantua are especially famous for their quenelles de brochet (mousseline) (pike quenelles), often served with cream sauce. There are many ways to prepare quenelles de brochet, but most recipes first prepare a panade, essentially a white sauce, then combine the panade with fish, and put the mixture through a sieve such as a tamis. Pike has many small bones, so passing it through the tamis is a good way of getting rid them.
A tamis (pronounced “tammy”), also known as a drum sieve, or chalni in Indian cooking, is a kitchen utensil, shaped somewhat like a snare drum, that acts as a strainer, grater, or food mill. A tamis has a cylindrical edge, made of metal or wood, that supports a disc of fine metal, nylon, or horsehair mesh. To use one, the cook places the tamis above a bowl and adds the ingredient to be strained in the centre of the mesh. The food is then pushed through using a spatula or pestle.
Tamises have been in use since the Middle Ages. Because the tamis’ mesh is flat, downward pressure can be applied with little effort simply by scraping with a horizontal motion. A tamis should be used with the inner hoop uppermost, first because it holds more, and second so that the bowl below will rest on the hoop rather than the mesh. Tamises sift and grate ingredients far more finely than any other utensil, and the texture of the strained material is evenly consistent. Tamises range in size from 6 to 16 inches (15 to 41 cm) and the mesh is available in different gauges. The nylon mesh is more resilient than wire and keeps its shape better but a wire mesh, although sharper and stronger than nylon, will rust if not dried carefully after each use. Horsehair mesh tamises were previously common, but are now difficult to find outside of an antique store.
A perfect quenelle is simple in theory, but it’s challenging in practice because the food must be the consistency of butter at room temperature, or a little firmer, so the quenelle will form and hold its shape. Also, the food should be uniform, without large voids of trapped air, which would show up as craters in the quenelle. The spoon needs to be deep-bowled rather than flat and must be hot enough to release the quenelle, but not so hot that it melts the food.
Here’s how to do it, courtesy of Thomas Keller from his iconic The French Laundry Cookbook.
“To make a one-spoon quenelle, you need a cup of very hot water, a spoon (whose bowl will determine the size of the quenelle), and whatever you’re ‘quenelling.’ Dip the spoon in the water so it’s hot. Hold the spoon with the rounded bottom up, place the far edge of the spoon into the mixture, with the near edge close to the surface but not touching, and drag the spoon toward you. The mixture you’re scraping should curl with the shape of the spoon. As you drag, twist your wrist up until the quenelle folds over itself into an egg shape. For the best shape, drag only once through the mixture; dip and clean your spoon for each new quenelle. It takes some practice.”
- 350 g hake or other solid white fish
- 180 ml double cream
- 1 large egg
- A pinch ground nutmeg
- Flat-leaf parsley,finely chopped for garnish
- A handful of crayfish tails
- For the Lobster Sauce
- 1 shallot, minced
- The shells of two lobsters
- A glug of olive oil
- A small glass of white wine
- 1 large knob butter
- 2 tbsp of plain flour
- 320 ml milk
- Salt and white pepper to taste
- Place the chunks of hake In a food processor and blitz the fish into a very smooth purée.
- Next add the cream, egg, and nutmeg and process until smooth.
- Check the seasoning.
- Here's the fiddly bit. Take two tablespoons, shape the fish dumplings using a couple of tablespoons of the fish mixture.
- Drop them in a pan of salted simmering water.
- Do not overcrowd the pan,cook only a few at a time
- Cook for just 3 to 4 minutes then drain and keep warm on a plate.
- For The Lobster Sauce
- Place the lobster shells and shallot in a saute pan with the oil.
- Saute until the shallot and shells are browned.
- Deglaze the pan with the wine.
- Add the butter and sprinkle with the flour. Cook the flour and butter out for for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
- Add the milk and bring to a boil, stir constantly to avoid lumps
- Simmer gently for about 3 minutes. Strain.
- Check the seasoning
- Ladle the sauce into the bowls and place the quenelles on top with a couple of crayfish tails
- Garnish with the parsley and serve