Welcome to guest blogger Deana Sidney of Lost Past Remembered, a blog dedicated to discovering, replicating and adapting historic recipes. In this saucy series she demystifies one of the cornerstones of classic French cuisine: the mother sauces.
Sauce Béchamel Mornay
I discovered Filet of Sole Verdi when I read a description of it that made me swoon –– sole, lobster and truffles on pasta with a creamy Mornay sauce that’s popped under the broiler to brown a bit. Escoffier invented the dish to impress the composer. With 2 great sauces in it I thought it was perfect for the sauce series.
But when I looked up the original recipes for béchamel and Mornay sauce, I was shocked.
Escoffier’s original béchamel is made with veal! His white sauce is cooked with pieces of veal for two hours then strained. Remarkable. I will try doing it that way one of these days but decided that, since it was fish, I would go with the simpler, non-veal version that he used for “Lenten preparations.”
Béchamel was named after the Marquis de Béchameil (1630 -1703), of whom Escoffier wrote “After all, if it wasn’t for his divine sauce the Marquis de Béchamel would have been forgotten long ago.” Legend has it that it was invented to sauce dried cod. It is in Varenne’s 1651 Cuisinier Francais made with a veal velouté and cream, so Escoffier’s version echoes the sauce’s velouté ancienne roots (velouté has been around a very long time).
The same was true of the Mornay sauce. Probably named after a “player in the halcyon days” of the 2nd Empire, Charles de Mornay, I never knew Escoffier put fumet into the sauce (fumet being stock-based liquid the meat or fish was poached in). It makes a sublime addition to the cheesy sauce, giving it a bit of backbone.
When you put it together with the sole and lobster and truffles and pasta, ooh la la, you can see why Verdi was pleased with it. It is extremely elegant and if you do the sauces and pasta ahead of time, it can be ready in a few minutes.
Filet of Sole Verdi
(serves 2 main course-4 appetizer)
½ to ¾ lb. filet of sole
1 c fish fumet/stock*
4 c cooked pasta (don’t go too al dente on this, you want it softish to go with the elegant texture of the dish)
1 c cream
2 small lobster tails, shells removed
1 T butter
2 c béchamel
2 c Mornay sauce
1 large D’Artagnan truffle sliced and ¼ chopped (optional)
2-3 t D’Artagnan truffle oil to taste.
Salt and pepper
Put the fish in the stock on medium heat. Add a touch of salt and pepper and cook for 2 minutes per side –– they cook very quickly. Remove. Reduce the stock to 1/2 a cup. Pour any juices that have collected from the fish into the reduced fumet. If you have a lot of juices, you should reduce a little further so you only have 1/2 cup.
Warm the cream. Add the cheeses to the cream. Toss the pasta with the cream and salt and pepper to taste. Add 2 t of the truffle oil and some chopped truffle, if you are using it, and toss just before assembling the dish.
Add the fumet to the Mornay sauce and stir. Warm it. It should be thick.
Sauté the lobster tails for a few minutes. They should not be fully cooked. Chop the smaller end of the tail and add to the pasta. Slice the fatter end.
Heat the broiler. Make single skillets or a large skillet with handles that can take the broiler.
Spoon the pasta into the dish. Lay the sole over 2/3 of the dish. Pour the Mornay sauce over the sole and tuck the lobster at the edge of the Mornay sauce. Heat the pan on the stove for a few minutes at medium-low heat.
Put under the broiler on high for a few minutes. Pay attention, it goes from perfect to burned in no time. Remove and top with chopped herbs. Tuck the truffle slices in and drizzle with remaining truffle oil.
*(I always freeze bones and shrimp/lobster shells and make this when I have enough to make a quart of stock. Then freeze it flat and break it off when I need it or freeze in ½ c portions). You could use chicken stock in a pinch.
2 c milk
1 small shallot, sliced
1 clove (optional)
3 T butter
2 T flour
Heat the milk and simmer while you melt the butter. Add the flour to the butter and stir over low heat till all bubbly. Do not let it brown. Strain the milk. Pour the hot milk slowly into the flour mixture, stirring all the while over medium heat till all the milk is used and the sauce is thickened. Add the cheeses and set aside.
2 c béchamel
½ c fish reserved fumet
1 c grated Parmesan
1 c grated Gruyere
Add the fumet to the béchamel and reduce a little. Add the Parmesan and gruyere and stir till smooth.