This is another dish that Raymond Blanc cooked on his program when he visited Lyon (France) and that I really fancied after watching it!
Finding pike quenelles
I cheat and buy my pike quenelles frozen, but they can also be bought in a can or even better, freshly made at home. However, I prefer the frozen version. All I need to do is make a tomato sauce to cover the quenelles and I top them up with grated cheese (I use my favorite French cheese: Comté). The traditional sauce is a crayfish sauce called sauce Nantua (“Quenelles de brochet sauce Nantua” in French). Sauce Nantua originates from Nantua, in the Ain départment of eastern France. It is made with a béchamel sauce, crayfish butter, fresh cream, onion, white wine, Brandy and crayfish tails.
What is a quenelle?
As a general rule, a quenelle is a mixture of creamed fish (salmon, pike) or poultry (usually chicken), sometimes combined with breadcrumbs and egg (to bind), formed into an oval shape, and then cooked. The usual cooking method is poaching. Quenelles can also be plain or “nature” (no fish or meat), simply using wheat semolina (or flour), milk, eggs, salted butter and water (the water will make them swell up into their distinctive shape).
Originally, quenelles were mostly used as a garnish, but nowadays, they tend to be served as a dish in their own right with a sauce. The most popular and classic sauce is Nantua, as seen above, but quenelles can also be served with a tomato sauce, a forestière sauce with mushrooms, or even in a gratin. The possibilities are many.
The humble quenelle now has also given its name to a simple, oval shape used in top restaurants (or even on Masterchef: contestants regularly use that method to serve up their accompaniments) and can be another food stuff entirely, such as ice cream, sorbet, or even mashed potato quenelles.
As for my frozen pike quenelles, they need to cook for about 40 – 45 min at 200 degrees in the oven. You know when they are done as they will double in size and look brown! If freshly made, once poached and nicely swollen into shape, a quicker 30mns in the oven is sufficient. They need to be “gratinées” with a lovely, cheesy, bubbly look.
I recommend serving them straight away as they will “deflate” like a soufflé! (I took this photo too late, they were a lot bigger 2 minutes earlier!).
My wife’s grandparents live near Lyon, a beautiful city famed for its gastronomy. Lyon prides itself on being the birthplace of the quenelle, and I always eat them when I visit my wife’s relatives. It has become something of a tradition. It is always on the menu and they always taste better when Mamie Ginette cooks them, but then she is a fantastic cook.
Do you have any pike fish recipes to share? Let us know.