What the black bean cake did for the Santa Fe Bar and Grill in Berkeley, this paillard of fish did for Stars in San Francisco. I developed it with the same purpose: to present, at the opening of a restaurant, a fast, new, easily cooked, foolproof, and easily understood dish. With a little advance chopping and slicing, you can serve this winning dish in five minutes.
Use sturgeon and garnish the center of the cooked fish with a tablespoon of spiced crabmeat, cooked fish in green goddess mayonnaise, or preserved tuna in sour cream mixed with ancho chili puree. Or use radish salad as on the sea bass. And spoon over the fish your choice of a flavored cream from a puree of chipotle, mixed herbs, or a ginger puree. Or cut open an avocado, dice it, add a teaspoon of cumin and 2 tablespoons lime juice, and put that in the center of the cooked fish.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. or preheat the broiler.
Pound the fish slices until they are evenly 1/8-inch thick.
Put 4 heat resistant plates in the oven or under the broiler until hot. Remove and brush each 1 with 1/2 teaspoon of the butter.
Season the paillards of fish with salt and pepper and put 1 on each plate. Mix the fish stock, ginger, garlic, and tomatoes in a saute pan. Bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes. Whisk the remaining butter into the sauce and pour it over the fish.
By the time you garnish the plates with the cilantro, the fish will be done.
The best fish to include in a light stock to be used for cream and butter sauces are sole, turbot, halibut, and trout. For fish soups and hearty stews, use whatever non-oily fish bones and heads you have: the fished already mentioned plus bass, grouper, snapper, haddock, etc.
Despite what most cookbooks tell you, fish stocks should be brought to a boil as fast as possible so that the albumin coagulates and rises to the surface for skimming.
Simmer for no more than 30 minutes or the stock will tasty "fishy" and stale.
The vegetables have to be finely chopped so that they cook entirely in this short time, and the acid from the wine is necessary if you are to use the stock for making butter sauces, but add it only after the vegetables have given up most of their flavor (it impedes this process if added at the beginning).
Any leftover stock can be frozen for up to a month.
Wash the fish carcasses, removing the gills from the heads, and, under running water, scrape away any blood from the backbone.
Put the celery, onion, herbs, and salt in a pot. Add 1 cup of the water, cover, and sweat the mixture over low heat for 10 minutes. Do not let any browning occur.
Add the fish carcasses and remaining water. Bring to a boil over high heat. The moment it boils, lower the heat to a bare simmer. Stir the bones around very gently for a few seconds so that any coagulated albumin trapped at the bottom will rise to the surface. Skim off any scum, avoiding floating vegetables or herbs. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.
Add the wine, and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, let sit for 5 minutes, then carefully ladle all the stock into a fine strainer set over a container. Do not press down on any fish in the strainer. Put the last of the stock into the strainer and discard the debris. Immediately refrigerate the stock uncovered. When cold, cover and keep refrigerated or frozen until needed.
Yield: 1 gallon
Recipe courtesy of Jeremiah Tower, Jeremiah Tower Cooks, Stewart Tabori and Chang, 2002