Red snapper cooked in a pine needle papillote, julienne of zucchini and yellow squash, pine nut & zucchini crumble, pine needle flavored beurre blanc
Was I injected with a pine needle?
My friends know that I am a pine nuts or, put it otherwise, that I always pine for the pine scent, for everything edible with pine nuts into it, pesto, pignoli cookies, and even for cooking with pine needles…
In fact, I guess this addiction dates back from my summer vacations spent from my very young age on the seaside, by the Bassin d'Arcachon or in the Island of Oléron, in the North of Bordeaux. Oléron is a luminous island (hence its "other" name, l’île lumineuse) featuring a landscape of beaches, of old marshes and of stone pine forests. If I used to spend a lot of time on, or rather by, the beaches, navigating on any floating object carrying a sail, from the small funboard to the wide cruising multihull, if I also rode my road bike or my mountain bike on all the paths running along the marshes, now transformed in oyster parks where the very famous Marennes-Oléron fines de claire (oysters refined in cleared water park) are grown, I also enjoyed a lot exploring the stone pine forests... I woke up early in the morning to run with a group of marathoners or long distance runners, to keep up with my cross-country training… Beyond the efficiency of this method (there is no better exercise than running in the sand) that allowed me to qualify for the French junior championship, I keep a strong olfactive memory of the pine scents exhaling when the sun started to heat up the pine foliage. And when I didn't run, I loved foraging in those forests to pick up the pine cones and shake them to drop the pine nuts, before gently breaking their hard shells between two stones and savoring those tiny and delicate kernels nested inside.
Cooking with pine needles
On top of its oysters, Oléron is also renowned for its mussels, named bouchots, after the name of the stakes on which the mussels are farmed. The locals have developed a unique technique to cook those, which is in my opinion the best existing way to prepare mussels… This method, named églade (or éclade), consists in cooking the mussels under a layer of enflamed pine needles so that they just open while taking the pine sap taste. Inspired by this method, I have developed techniques where I cook a chicken in a pot filled with pine needles or a fish in the oven on a bed of pine needles and sealed.
Please note that you cannot do it with any type of pine needles. First of all, some of them such as the cedar needles are said to be toxic and they are not adapted to this cooking technique. It is necessary to use stone (also named umbrella or parasol) or maritime pine needles, growing by the sea in a sunny climate, ensuring that the needles are dry and flavorful. In the US, the pine needles I use are coming directly from Texas.
Papillote of pine needles
Today, I adopted a more elaborate technique, cooking and infusing this beautiful red snapper in a papillote of pine needles… This is in fact a traditional aluminum papillote, where instead of throwing fresh thyme stems and other herbs, I put a generous quantity of pine needles, inside the fish and outside. This not only loads the fish with nice flavors and aromas -Ah! Those scents when you unwrap the fish!!!-, but it also has two advantages:
. first, the pine needles stuck inside maintains the fish standing up on its belly, meaning that each side will cook consistently
. second, the pine needles make a protection and avoids the fish skin to stick on the aluminium.
Levels of difficulty
The only difficulty is in fact to find good pine needles
1. The fish
§ 1 whole red snapper (or any other white fish such as branzino, porgy…) of around 2 lbs., gutted, scaled
§ 3 handful of dry pine needles (stone/umbrella or maritime pines)
§ Olive oil
§ Pepper or Espelette
2. The julienne and the crumble
§ 1 medium size green zucchini,
§ 1 medium size yellow squash
§ 1 tbsp. of ramp/pine nut pesto (or classic basil/pine pesto)
§ 50 g of pine nuts + a few other ones for the decoration
§ 50 g of AP flour
§ 50 g of butter at room temperature, cut in dices
3. The beurre blanc
§ 1 shallot head (=2 cloves in most cases), finely chopped
§ ½ cup of dry white wine
§ 100 g of salted butter at room temperature, cut in dices
1. The julienne of zucchini/yellow squash
§ Either with the mandolin special blade or simply with a cheese grater, cut the zucchini and the yellow squash in julienne (or slaw), ensuring that you separate the outside “colored” part from the inside “white” part with the seeds to be used in the crumble
§ Mix the julienne with the pine nut pesto and reserve
§ Five minutes before serving, or earlier depending on how much cooked you would like your julienne, gently sauté it in olive oil
2. The crumble
§ Sweat the white julienne in a pan with salt and pepper to eliminate as much water as possible, and weigh a quantity of 100 g.
§ Mix together the pine nuts, the flour, the butter and the dried “white” julienne (therefore 100 g of each ingredient) in a blender to obtain a kind of rough paste, and spread it with a spatula in an oven sheet protected by a parchment sheet and bake it for around 30 minutes, or till it obtains a nice blond color, at 350F. You can prepare it in advance and heat it up 5 minutes before serving
3. Cooking the fish
§ Salt and pepper the fish, inside and outside
§ Take a small handful of pine needles and cut them so that you can fill them in the fish belly. It will flavor the inside of the fish, but it also allows it to stay vertical on its belly (see pix below)
§ Place the fish vertical on its belly on an aluminum foil and place one handful of pine needles on each side to wedge the fish and to flavor it. Spread olive oil on eac side of the fish
§ Wrap the fish in the aluminum foil and possibly a second foil to secure the whole
§ Cook on a plancha in the BBQ (or in an oven), at medium high, for around 25/30 minutes (to adjust depending on the size of the fish) or still the fish is just cooked (“pink”) on the central bone, and let it rest 5 minutes in the foil before fileting it. Depending on your tastes, you can remove or leave the skin
4. Preparing the beurre blanc and serving
§ Put the shallots and the wine in a little saucepan and put to boil till the liquid has almost evaporate
§ Add progressively the dices of butter while whisking and emulsifying the whole energetically. The process should take around 5 minutes till you obtain a creamy consistency. Although there is no lemon into it, the residual acidity of the wine gives it a lemony taste. This is called a beurre blanc or beurre nantais as it was originally made with Muscadet wine grown in the Nantes area, but any dry white wine (sauvignon blanc, pino griggio…) will make the job
§ You just need to plate the whole: personally, I disposed the snapper filet on a bed of julienne and I spread the crumble on the fish and all over the plate. I served the beurre blanc apart in a little sauce boat to pour it at the last moment and keep the crumble crispy