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Whitefish Fillets with Morels and Asparagus
Recipe from The '21' Cookbook, Michael Lomonaco, Doubleday © 1995

Yield: 4 Servings

All across the Northern Hemisphere, spring is a time of delicious anticipation. In the Great Lakes region, where the winters are long and cold, morels and asparagus are signature delicacies that celebrate the coming bounty of summer. This authentically regional combination is the perfect complement to the sweet mild flavor and delicate texture of whitefish from Lake Superior. Among the most delicious of the wild mushrooms, morels may be difficult to come by, but they are worth the effort and expense. The Northwest has a bountiful harvest each spring that finds its way into the gourmet food shops and better supermarkets across the country.

  • 1/2 pound fresh morels or the other wild mushrooms or 1 to 2 ounces dried morels or other wild mushrooms, washed and soaked in hot water 30 minutes
  • 1 pound young, thin asparagus
  • 4 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
  • 1/2 cup fish stock (recipe here)
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 4 (6-ounce) fillets of white fish, skin on salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Clean the morels carefully, washing them under cold water, then laying them out on paper towels to absorb the excess moisture and air dry. Trim the asparagus stems at the point where a knife slices through easily. If the skin seems at all tough or stringy, peel the stalks with a vegetable peeler.

In a sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons canola oil over medium heat. Add the morels and sauté 3 to 4 minutes. Add the shallots and cook 3 minutes more. Add the fish stock and allow the morels to braise 2 to 3 minutes. Add the asparagus and the white wine and continue to cook another 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and place on a warm platter and set aside.

Season the fish with salt and pepper . Heat the remaining canola oil in a second heavy skillet. Sauté the fillets 2 1/2 to 3 minutes on each side, and remove to the platter holding the asparagus.

Return the morels to the sauté pan to heat to the boiling point. Add the thyme and butter. Remove promptly from the heat and allow the butter ( which adds a creamy texture to the dish) to melt. Spoon over the fish and serve promptly.

Fish Stock
Recipe from The '21' Cookbook, Michael Lomonaco, Doubleday © 1995

Yield: 1 to 1 1/2 Quarts

Of the various kinds of stock, fish stock is one of the simplest and quickest to make. A good fish stock is a wonderful addition to your supply of kitchen "basics." Not only is it essential for some fish and soup recipes, but it can enhance flavor in many other recipes without adding fat.

  • 2 pounds fish bones from non oily fish*
  • 1 large onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks celery, washed and chopped, including leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, leaves and stems
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon white peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Chardonnay

*Wash the bones in cold water to remove any scales or unwanted materials, then combine all ingredients in a large pot. Quickly bring just to a boil, then lower the heat to a slow simmer and cook 1 hour. While the stock simmers, skim and discard any coagulated proteins from the fish bones that rise to the surface. Remove from the heat, pour the stock though a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth, and then cool as quickly as possible in an ice-water bath. Refrigerated and covered, the fish stock should keep well for up to 1 week. the stock can also be kept frozen for as long as 6 months.

*Use only fish bones that come from non oily fish, such as a red snapper, flounder, sea bass, or sole. avoid salmon, pompano, tuna, and other fish with strong and fatty flavors.

Chef's Tips:

1. Cover the ingredients in your stock pot with an extra 2 inches of water, and make sure they remain covered throughout the time they are cooking, even if that means adding more water at various intervals.

2. Avoid cooking the stock at a boil as this will result in a cloudy stock.