Pan Roasted Haddock with Mustard Cream Sauce

Pan roasted haddock with cauliflower and potatoes

When the air begins to turn crisp and one of your to-do items is "order firewood", it's a natural to think of warming up with a slow-simmering stew, or to bring out the cache of soup recipes. As we watched the second fall season engulf our small house, I was in search of recipes to entice us to finish raking and bagging each week's leaf fall on our Saturday afternoons. (Our record so far: 26 full lawn-waste bags las Saturday!)

One weekend there was a catch. T. wanted fish (no pun intended). Hmmmmmm. I was tempted to do a fish pie, but decided to keep that for when T's parents visit next month. It occurred to me that the original post on that recipe was dedicated to them, but that I had never actually made it for them before! (How did that happen?) So, what else could I do with the haddock filets we had in the freezer?

For inspiration, I turned to a book that has never let me down: The New German Cookbook. Not surprisingly, this recipe for Pfannenfisch (pan-roasted fish) comes from the coastal city-state of Hamburg by the North Sea. Though the original recipe calls for flounder or turbot, I've substituted wild-caught haddock which is readily available here in the mid-Atlantic. Just before serving, I also added pre-roasted cauliflower florets to turn this into a complete one-dish meal. The sliced potatoes absorbed the savory pan juices from the fish and aromatics, while the sweet flavors of the haddock and the roasted vegetables complimented each other against the bite of the creamy mustard sauce — a hearty yet elegant autumn meal to transition with the seasons. It was nice to be able to garnish this with two of the hardier hangers-on in the herb garden, the chives and nasturtium blossoms, and to use our favorite summer quaff — a Trebbiano-Pinot Gris blend from Trader Joe's called Vola — to blend the seasons as well.

We will see this dish on our table again during the coming cooler and cold months. Brrrrrrrrrrrr….. Can't wait.

Adapted from The New German Cookbook, by Jean Anderson and Hedy Würz
Serves 4 persons

1 lb (450g) red potatoes
3 TBL unsalted butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 small cauliflower, cut into florets (optional)
sea salt, to taste
white pepper, to taste
1 lb (450g) haddock filets, cut into ½ inch pieces
lemon juice
small bunch of fresh chives, snipped for garnish
nasturtium blossoms (optional)

Scrub potatoes well and peel (optional), then slice crosswise into ½ inch pieces. Steam potatoes over medium steam until just softened enough to pierce with a fork, about 13-15 minutes.

Place large skillet in oven, and pre-heat oven to 400F/200C.

After 10 minutes, remove skillet and add butter, swirling carefully to melt butter and coat pan. Place potato slices on bottom of pan, and lay onions over potatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If using cauliflower, layer florets over onion slices and drizzle over with about 1 TBL olive oil. (If using pre-roasted cauliflower, add when you add fish.) Return skillet to oven and roast for 30-40 minutes, or until onions have softened and vegetables are just browning. Meanwhile, make the Sauce.

For the Sauce:
2 TBL unsalted butter
s small shallots, finely minced
2 TBL flour
1½ cup (355ml) milk
½ cup light or table cream
3 TBL Dijon mustard
2 TBL Riesling, pinot gris or other dry white wine
2 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp sea salt
white pepper, to taste

In a small saucepan, melt butter and saute shallots over medium until translucent and fragrant, about 6-7 minutes. With a whisk, stir in flour, and blend well to make a roux. Cook for about 2 minutes. Combine milk and cream, add 2 tablespoons and stir well into the roux. Add another 2 tablespoons, and again incorporate into the roux. Slowly pour remaining milk into sauce mixture, making sure to whisk well so you don't get any lumps. When all the milk has been added, allow to simmer for about 5 minutes so your sauce is smooth and has begun to thicken. Combine mustard, wine and lemon juice, and add to simmering sauce. Add at least ½ tsp of sea salt to balance the flavor of sauce, them adjust to your taste, along with white pepper.

Remove from heat and put into a serving dish or gravy boat to allow each diner to help themselves. I like to divide sauces like this between 2 or more large creamers that can be placed between every 2 diners so it is easier for everyone to help themselves.

Finish Fish:
Once the veggies in the skillet are ready, remove from oven and lightly toss all veggies. Season fish pieces with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with lemon juice. Add fish to skillet and return again to the oven for 5-6 minutes, or until fish feels firm and lightly flakes with a fork. (I turned off the oven after 5 minutes and let the dish finish with the residual heat for another 5 while toasting bread and setting the table.)

Serve with your favorite bread to catch every bit of the addicting sauce, and the rest of the wine you used in the mustard sauce.