Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hip Hip Mornay and Filet of Sole Verdi

Giuseppe Verdi

I discovered Filet of Sole Verdi when I read the description of it in a lovely book Dining with Verdi that I wrote about HERE when I wrote about my friend August's Verdi project and learned about Verdi's connection with great food (read more about the Verdi project, 27, at the end of the post).   The recipe has been asking me to make it ever since.  NO, not asking, demanding (albeit seductively in a come-hitherly way).

I made it a few times with sole and shrimp but I knew I had to break down and get a lobster tail to make it properly.  Also, I had my wonderful D’Artagnan truffles  to make the final necessary addition so obviously the stars aligned for the dish to be made.  All I can say is WOW.  This is one of those knock-your-socks-off dishes you make for magical occasions –– using a touch of truffle oil instead of the truffles makes it an affordable luxury.



At first glance, Escoffier’s recipe is fairly straightforward.  The ingredients to make it work are not difficult to come by.  I’ve made béchamel a zillion times and Mornay Sauce dozens of times.  Thing is, I don’t think I ever looked at Escoffier’s original recipes because when I did, I was in for a shock.

Escoffier’s original béchamel is made with veal!   His white sauce is cooked with pieces of veal for two hours then strained.  Remarkable.  I will try doing it that way one of these days but decided since it was fish that I would go with the simpler, non-veal version. 

Béchamel was named after the Marquis de Béchameil (1630 -1703), of whom Escoffier wrote “After all, if it wasn’t for his divine sauce the Marquis de Béchamel would have been forgotten long ago.” Legend has it that it was invented to sauce dried cod.  It is in Varenne's 1651 Cuisinier Francais made with a veal velouté and cream so Escoffier's version echos the sauce's  velouté ancienne roots (velouté has been around a very long time).

The same was true of the Mornay sauce.  I never knew Escoffier put fumet into the sauce (fumet being stock-based liquid the meat or fish was poached in).  It makes a sublime addition to the pallid, cheesy sauce, giving it a bit of backbone.  

Le Grand Vefour

The sauce was introduced at the Paris restaurant, Le Grand Véfour  (1784 - present) in the 19th century (although it was not mentioned in the 1820 version of Le Cuisinier Impérial so it was a mid-century invention).

That's all pretty straightforward, but the link with the Mornay name is a bit murky. 

Some say it was named for  Philippe, duc de Mornay (1549-1623)  and that the 2 cheeses used in the sauce had something to do with the link and the way he brought two factions together.  That makes no sense to me especially since the sauce wouldn't be around until a few hundred years after Philippe's death –– he wasn't exactly a household name at that point.

Charles de Mornay by Dedreux-Dorcy 

What makes more sense to me is another Mornay –– Charles (1803-78) who would have been a player in the halcyon days of the 2nd Empire (and a diplomat best known for bringing Delacroix along on an 1832 visit to Morocco).

1822 Lawrence portrait of Marguerite, Countess of Blessington (1789-1849)

When I checked in with the Countess of Blessington’s  fun book, The Idler in France (1841) and saw all the references to a dinner circle that included Talleyrand (1754-1838) as a frequent guest when de Morney was present, I can’t help but think that Charles is the inspiration for the sauce.

The countess wrote of de Morney:

"The glass of fashion and the mould of form, 
The observed of all observers."

"I was agreeably surprised to find him one of the most witty, well-informed, and agreeable young men I have ever seen.  Gay without levity, well-read without pedantry, and good-looking without vanity... with a brilliant wit, the sallies of which can "set the table in a roar".

After all, Talleyrand was a world-renowned gourmet and employed none other than Carême as his chef (Carême wrote lovingly about Talleyrand's knowledge of food and his refined tastes).  Doesn't it seem more likely that Mornay sauce was named after a tastemaker of the day who often dined with Talleyrand? 

What the eponymous sauce will give you when added to this dish is luxury, richness and a refined taste that will cause you to reflect on the simple majesty of great tastes and textures in a dish fit for Talleyrand –– or you!

Filet of Sole Verdi (serves 2 main course-4 appetizer)

½ to ¾ lb. filet of sole
1 c fish fumet/stock* 
4 c cooked pasta (don't go too al dente on this, you want it softish to go with the elegant texture of the dish)
1 c cream
2 small lobster tails, shells removed  
1 T butter
2 c béchamel
2 c Mornay sauce
1 large D'Artagnan truffle sliced  and ¼ chopped (optional)
2-3 t  D’Artagnan truffle oil  to taste.
Salt and pepper

Put the fish in the stock on medium heat.  Add a touch of salt and pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes per side –– they cook very quickly.  Remove.  Reduce the stock to1/2 a cup.  Pour any juices that have collected from the fish into the reduced fumet.

Warm the cream.  Add the cheeses to the cream. Toss the pasta with the cream and salt and pepper to taste.  Add 2 t of the truffle oil  and some chopped truffle if you are using it and toss just before assembling the dish.

Add the fumet to the Mornay sauce and stir.  Warm it.  It should be thick.

Saute the lobster tails for a few minutes.  They should not be fully cooked.  Chop the smaller end of the tail and add to the pasta.  Slice the fatter end.

Heat the broiler.

Spoon the pasta into the dish.  Lay the sole over 2/3 of the dish. Pour the Mornay sauce  over the sole and tuck the lobster and truffle at the edge of the mornay sauce. Heat the pan on the stove for a few minutes at medium low heat.

Put under the broiler on high for a few minutes.  Pay attention, it goes from perfect to burned in no time.   Remove and top with chopped herbs.  Drizzle with remaining truffle oil.

*(I always freeze bones and shrimp/lobster shells and make this when I have enough to make a quart of stock.  Then freeze it flat and break it off when I need it or freeze in ½ c portions) you could use chicken stock in a pinch


2 c milk
1 small shallot, sliced
1 clove (optional)
3 T butter
2 T flour

Heat the milk and simmer while you melt the butter.  Add the flour to the butter and stir over low heat till all bubbly.  Do not let it brown.  Strain the milk.  Pour the hot milk slowly into the flour mixture, stirring all the while over a medium heat till all the milk is used and the sauce is thickened.  Add the cheeses and set aside.

Mornay Sauce

2 c béchamel
½ c fish reserved fumet
1 c grated Parmesan
1 c grated Gruyere

Add the fumet to the béchamel and reduce a little.  Add the Parmesan and gruyere and stir till smooth.

My great friend, August Ventura (who I wrote about HERE) is hard at work completing his passion project just in time for Giuseppe Verdi's 200th birthday.  It is a provocative and entertaining documentary about the unique opera culture that exists in that culinary capital of Italy, Parma.

Click to see the wonderful 22-minute promo reel HERE   
or visit his website HERE  
and see a fun party for the film HERE 

I encourage all of you film or opera buffs, lovers of all things Italian, and champions of the cause of musical education to support "27" if you can.  Great passions should always be nurtured and supported, don't you think??

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La Table De Nana said...

I guess today she would have written about him: He is hot:)

Love the way language used to be:)
How interesting about the veal and fumet use..
All I can say is your dish is certainly 5 star:)

Mary Bergfeld said...

What a lovely "casserole" :-) It looks and sounds delicious. So little is posted about sole these days and that really is a shame. You know that I love what you do here. I learn something with every post. Have a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I did not know about the origins of Bechamel but I was recently asked which historical figure I'd like to meet and I said Careme! Because I adore puff pastry :)

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Ah, the rich story behind the sauce. You dish is a lovely homage!

Barbara said...

Good heavens! So I've been making these two sauces wrong all these years?
Great post, Deana, and a beautiful dish. Your truffles are making me faint.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

Who would have thought about veal in bechamel! Crazy but it does sound wonderfully with the right dish.

What a beautiful presentation of fish, sauce and truffles! You could be have a top-rated restaurant :)

Aruvqan said...

Looks lovely, but why the change from dice of macaroni to whole fairly large pasta?

[though I would seriously be tempted to use a pasta stamp, perhaps with a fleur de lys pattern]

Marjie said...

Sole AND Lobster? Outstanding!

Diane said...

I must say I am not really a sole fan, there are so many different fish with more flavour, never the less I bet this is good. Lobster I love :-) Trying to catch up with post but it is slow!! Take care Diane