Last week on a shelf in my office tucked in a corner I found a bottle of Pineau de Charentes an aperitif made from Cognac and sweet unfermented grape juice from the Cognac region in France. It was on our wine list for a while but because it was unfamiliar we didn’t sell it well and one of the staff put it away on the shelf. Anyway I remembered a couple of recipes in one of my old books, ‘The Cooking of Southwest France’ in which it’s an ingredient. This fish, mussel and leek recipe is my adaption of one of those recipes. The leeks by themselves would also make a great starter or side dish without the addition of the crème fraîche.
Ingredients (for 4)
About 1 kg white-fleshed skinned and boned fish such as hapuku, large tarakihi, gurnard – cut so there are 2-3 pieces per person
About 8-10 leeks each cut into 5-6 cms pieces – allow 3-4 pieces of leek per person
3-4 mussels each person, cleaned
50g unsalted butter
½ cup dry white wine
¾ cup Pineau de Charentes or sweet white Vermouth
½ cup crème fraiche
2 tsps brined green peppercorns, rinsed and slightly crushed
Finely chopped parsley
Finely chopped chives
Finely chopped tarragon or chervil (if available)
Salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a flameproof oven dish on a low heat. Add the leeks and season well. Cover the dish and cook gently for about 45 minutes turning the leeks over from time to time. They will soften and brown.
While the leeks are cooking quickly steam open the mussels in a little water. Drain, reserving the liquid and set the mussels aside.
Once the leeks are soft add the wine, Pineau de Charentes and the reserved mussel liquid to the dish. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes (the dish can be prepared in advance to this point). Turn off the heat and nestle the pieces of fish into the leeks, season and cover the fish with a piece of baking paper. Place this dish in the oven preheated to 200°C. Cook for about 5-10 minutes or longer depending on how thick the fish is.
Serve this on rice or mashed potato. Place the leeks, then fish on the rice and the finish the sauce on the stove top. Add the crème fraiche, peppercorns and mussels to the juices in the dish. Stir, bring to the boil quickly and add the fresh herbs. Spoon this sauce over the fish and leeks and place a few mussels on each plate.