For some reason, even though I am Franco-American, I love all things English—the literature, the countryside, the dogs, the tea, the sense of humor, the stiff upper lips, and, yes, even the food. Plain food cooked well can be very good indeed, and from a trip to England I took long ago, I have fond memories of scones, steak pies, and crispy fish and chips.
In a recent post, I wrote about the Miss Read books, written by Dora Saint and set in small English villages. Food is a regular feature in these novels—steak pies, gingerbread, and even curries. But one dish that makes a regular appearance is fish with parsley sauce, and after reading about it so many times, I decided to have a go at making it.
I did some research on the Internet and found all sorts of variations on this sauce, which is basically a white sauce with—you guessed it—parsley. Some of the sauces had wine, some had shallots, some had garlic, and some had to be strained. I decided to make a simple white sauce flavored with garlic, and the sauce, in turn, would go over baked haddock.
My husband, Clif, and I loved this dish. Chalk up another one for England. (I know. They’ve had their problems lately, but let’s face it, we live in troubled times.) The smooth garlicky white sauce flecked with parsley was a perfect accompaniment with baked haddock, brushed with oil and lemon juice and sprinkled with salt and pepper.
“Good enough for company,” Clif said, as he went back for seconds.
This started me thinking about having a very English dinner party. For starters, we would have sherry and salted nuts (two more things frequently featured in the Miss Read books). Then, the main meal—red potatoes, green beans, and fish with parsley sauce. Technically, potatoes are not English. They come from this country, of course. But the English have folded them into their cuisine so thoroughly that it seems as though potatoes have always been there. For dessert, I would serve gingerbread.
I like this idea so much that come October or the beginning of November, I just might host such a dinner party. In the meantime, Clif and I will be eating fish with parsley sauce at least a couple of times a month.
Fish with Parsley Sauce
Makes enough for four servings
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of flour
1 cup of milk
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of parsley, chopped
1 1/2 pounds of haddock or some other filleted fish
2 slices of lemon
Salt and pepper
Heat oven to 400°. Grease a large pan or cookie sheet and lay fish in pan. Brush with olive oil, squeeze lemon slices over fish—by all means use more lemon if you like a real lemony taste. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 or 20 minutes, depending on thickness of fish. The fish should be flaky but moist. Do not overcook or fish will be dry.
While the fish is cooking, make the white sauce. Melt the 1 tablespoon of butter in a saucepan. Add the garlic and let it sizzle for just a bit—a half minute or so. You don’t want to burn the garlic. Add the flour and stir well until you have a paste. Whisk in the milk. Once it is well mixed, stir sauce with a wooden spoon until the mixture has thickened. Start with the heat on medium. You will have to turn the heat to low once the mixture thickens so that it won’t boil. A good way to tell when the sauce is done: It will leave a line on the back of the wooden spoon. When the sauce is done, stir in the parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
The best way to serve the fish and parsley sauce is to plate the fish and to drizzle sauce on the fish. Add some red potatoes, some green beans or carrots, and you have yourself an attractive plate.
Note: When I made the sauce for Clif and me, there were leftovers. I plan to thin the sauce a bit with some milk, add canned salmon, and serve it over potatoes.