Paris bistros often serve fish in a lemony cream sauce that I’ve never seen served in a French home. Why not, one wonders? It proved remarkably easy to prepare when I tried it out in my kitchen the other day after scouting around online for tips. And the beauty of this sauce is that it may be served over any type of filleted fish — cod, haddock, salmon, sea bass, you name it — and would also be delicious over scallops, lobster or other shellfish.
Filets de poisson sauce citronnée / Poached fish with creamy lemon sauce
The sauce is best over fish that is poached or steamed. That takes about five minutes, as does making the sauce itself. So once you’ve gathered all the ingredients, and providing you buy fish that’s already filleted, preparation of this lovely dish takes ten minutes in total. Which is great during lockdown if you happen to be developing cooking fatigue.
The sauce is a mixture of cream, butter, lemon juice, salt, pepper and fresh herbs. Chives are traditional, but you can branch out and use the herb or your choice, for example dill, tarragon, cilantro, thyme, parsley or chervil. Unlike sauces involving egg yolks (hollandaise, mayonnaise), or emulisification (beurre blanc), this sauce requires no special culinary wizardry. For equipment, you will need only a small saucepan and a spoon.
Likewise — and happily, if you have a kitchen as small as mine — you don’t need a special poaching pan for the fish. The French variety of such a pan is a long rectangle with rounded ends that tends to measure about two feet (60 cm) in length and can set you back quite a bit. The copper and bronze model sold by Dehillerin, Paris’s finest cookware store, costs 686 euros, or more than $800. Even if I love the look, I’d have nowhere to store it.
Instead, a simple skillet with a cover is perfect for poaching fish fillets. Add a layer of water in the bottom and simmer the fish until it’s done. Or you can use a steamer. Then spoon on the creamy, buttery lemon sauce and voilà — a bistro-style dinner is ready.
What to serve alongside the fish? The sauce is also delicious over steamed veggies, so that’s one easy option. Another is to serve the fish beside a salad of tender leaves with toast triangles, as shown above. If you have a little more time, you could make a veggie purée, potatoes, rice, bulghur or another grain — pretty much anything.