Friday 7 December 2007

Recipe: Coulibiac

Ok. Since it's the end of the first week in December, I suppose it's time to stop feeling grumpy about the intemperate appearance of Christmas decorations in the streets and shop windows and to start to acknowledge the imminence of it a positive way. Hence this recipe - which, over the past few years, has become a standard first course for us for Christmas dinner. Years ago, when I first encountered Coulibiac, it was the version given by Julia Child, and although unquestionably delicious, it required a very experienced touch with Choux Pastry, and generally involved an anxious period during the final cooking, on tenterhooks about the end result - would the pastry have baked properly, or would it have separated and slithered messily onto the baking tray, leaving the innards of the thing horribly exposed to view?
The version given here is a slight re-working of Martha Stewart's recipe, which I found about fifteen years ago, and although it involves a lot of stages, it is indeed foolproof. Famous last words, of course - but I've lost count now of the times I've made it, and it's not let me down once......
To spread the load, all of the various elements of preparation can be done the day before, leaving just assembly and final cooking to be done on the day the Coulibiac is to be eaten. The amount given here is about right for fifteen or more healthy servings: certainly, I know that the last time I made it, it did comfortably for eight servings as a starter at dinner, as well as a further generous appearance - cold and delicious - at lunch the next day.


2 pounds of Puff Pastry (ready-made is fine...)

For the Fish filling:
3 tablespoons of minced Shallots; 2 oz of Butter; 2 pounds of fish fillets (the original recipe specifies Bass; I use Palumbo in Italy, which I think is dogfish in English - a fraction of the cost of Bass!) ; half a pound of field mushrooms, thinly sliced; quarter of a cup of chopped Dill; 2 teaspoons of Salt; Pepper, to taste; 1 cup of dry White Wine; Veloute sauce (made with 2 oz Butter, 3 tablespoons of Flour, half a cup of Milk, and half a cup of Stock, plus seasoning); 5 Egg Yolks; juice of 1 Lemon; pinch of Cayenne.

Egg & Rice Filling:
1 tablespoon of Tapioca; half a cup of cold Water; 1 medium onion, minced; 2 oz Butter; half a cup of long-grain rice; one and a half cups of Stock (chicken or duck); 3 hard-boiled Eggs, sieved; 4 tablespoons of chopped Parsley; 1 teaspoon of Salt; Pepper, to taste.

Dill Pancakes:
12 fluid oz Milk; 9 oz Flour; 3 Eggs; pinch of Salt; 6 tablespoons of Dill, finely chopped.

2 Egg Yolks, mixed with 2 tablespoons of Cream.


For the Fish Filling:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C.

2. Sweat the Shallots in the Butter until soft, then combine them in a baking dish with Mushrooms, Dill, Salt & Pepper. Place the Fish Fillets on top, add the Wine, cover with foil, and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

3. Remove from the oven, and remove the fillets from the poaching liquid to a platter. Measure half a cup of poaching liquid, for use in the Veloute (the remaining poaching ingredients can be used in as a sauce base for a fish recipe on another day, if you want.)

4. Make the Veloute: heat the Butter in a double-boiler or Zimmertopf; stir in the Flour, then add the Milk and Stock, and whisk over low heat as the mixture thickens).

5. Pour the Veloute over the Egg Yolks, lightly beaten, and mix them together, then return to the double boiler and continue to cook over low heat, stirring all the time with a whisk, and add the Lemon Juice and Cayenne as the mixture thickens. Pour this over the fillets, and refrigerate, to allow the fillets to firm.

For the Pancakes:
1. Make a batter in a liquidizer with all ingredients apart from the chopped Dill, then stir in the Dill, and use to make pancakes in the usual way - this amount should make about 18 pancakes.

For the Egg & Rice Filling:
1. Soften the Tapioca in the Water for about 5 minutes, then cook over a low heat until the Tapioca is thick - about 6 - 8 minutes. Let the Tapioca cool, then drain in a sieve for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, soften the Onion in Butter over a medium heat, then add the Rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the Rice is transparent. Add the Stock, reduce the heat to low, then cover the pan and leave to cook until the rice is done - about 18 minutes.

3. Combine Tapioca, Rice, sieved Eggs, and chopped Parsley. Season the mixture lightly.


1. Roll out half the Puff Pastry to make a rectangle 14" x 22". Lay 6 Pancakes on the Pastry, leaving a 2" border all the way round.

2. Spread a third of the Egg & Rice mixture over the Pancakes, then lay half of the Fish Fillets on top of this; lay another 6 Pancakes over the fillets, then another third of the Egg & Rice mixture and the remaining Fillets. Finish off with the last of the Egg & Rice mixture, and cover this with the last of the Pancakes, which should drape over the top of the whole construction. Refrigerate, to firm up as you roll out the remaining Pastry.

3. Roll the remaining Pastry also into a rectangle 14" x 22". Take the Coulibiac from the fridge, and fold the 2" border up around the construction. Brush the exposed edge of this Pastry with cold water, so that the second piece of Pastry will adhere to it when placed over the top. Once this has been done, press the two pieces of Pastry together, and crimp the edges with the blunt end of a knife handle.

4. Refrigerate the Coulibiac for at least an hour, before baking.

5. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C. Brush the surface of the Coulibiac with the glaze, then make two small holes in the top of the beast and insert two funnels made from aluminium foil, to allow steam to escape. Bake at 200 degrees C until the Pastry has puffed, then reduce the temperature to 175 degrees C, and continue baking until the Pastry is a deep golden brown - it should take about an hour.

Allow to cool slightly before slicing to serve.

Don't be daunted by the apparent complexity of the dish - it's worth the effort!

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