Bar en Croûte inspired by Paul Bocuse

This branzino cooked in a puff pastry is/was, along the red mullet dressed in crusty potato scales (click here), the soup VGE (a soup with black truffle and foie gras hidden under a puff pastry created in 1975 for the France’s President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing) and some (plenty of) other ones, a signature dish of Paul Bocuse.
This dish, served in l’Auberge de Collonges, the Paul Bocuse’s restaurant near Lyon, consists in a skinned branzino stuffed with a scallop and freshwater fish mousse, and cooked in a puff pastry replicating the shape of a fish. It is served with Sauce Choron, a sauce made with shallots, wine, red wine vinegar, tarragon, eggs… similar to a Sauce Béarnaise… This is now the traditional recipe of the Paul Bocuse’s recipe… but I found recently on a French TV archive site the initial recipe as proposed by Paul Bocuse himself in the mid-70’s. This recipe is slightly different and a bit simpler too, since the stuffing is simply made of cottage cheese (fromage blanc) and herbs, and the sauce is a beurre blanc flavored with tarragon.
This is the recipe I mostly followed here, with some twists and adaptations based on the products I had available. For instance, as I didn’t have fresh tarragon, I used fresh basil and celery leaves. Instead of fromage blanc, which, according to Bocuse, is to bring moistness inside the fish, I used fresh ricotta that did perfectly the job, and if my sauce base was a beurre blanc, I also enrich it to integrate the fish trims (skin, bones) and the vegetables cooking juice. Talking of the vegetables, I served my bar en croûte with baby turnips, radishes and carrots cooked and glazed in butter and sparkling limonade.  

Levels of difficulty

45 minutes*
30 minutes
40 minutes
* I used a commercial puff pastry

Ingredients 2 servings

§  1 branzino of 1.5/2.0 lbs., gutted but non-scaled (very important)
§  2 puff pastry sheets
§  Fresh basil and celery leaves
§  Ricotta, in a sufficient quantity to stuff the inside of the fish (or cottage cheese, crème fraîche…)
§  Olive oil
§  1 egg yolk
§  Salt and pepper (or piment d’Espelette)

For the sauce:
§  2 shallot cloves chopped
§  A glass of dry white wine (Burgundy for instance)
§  Olive oil
§  Herbs
§  A generous quantity of butter (~2 oz.)


§  First thing to do, unless you ask your fishmonger to do it, is to skin the fish. This is why it is important to have a non-scaled fish as it makes this operation much, much easier than with a scaled fish. The thickness and the resistance of the scale “shell” allow you to remove the skin easily. The technique I use is to start from the belly near the head, and, with a sharp knife, to cut and slide under the skin till it is loose up to the top of the fish back, and to reiterate the operation on the other side, after which you just need to pull out the skin from the top… as a surgical tape! Then, with the same knife, also remove the bones and fins on the top of the fish, which will leave a groove that just calls for being stuffed with herbs!  Trim the fins and tail. Keep the fish skin and wastes for your sauce,
§  Salt and pepper the fish, outside and inside,
§  Make a stuffing with the ricotta mixed with the herbs, salt, pepper and a tbsp. of olive oil, and fill the fish belly and head with this stuffing. Also insert some herbs in the top groove,
§  Rub the fish with olive oil and herbs, and let it rest like that in the fridge for around half an hour,
§  Then, preheat your oven at 420 F
§  Prepare and roll the puff pastry sheets in order to obtain two rectangles (bottom and top) large enough to wrap the fish and draw fins and a tail (see pictures).  
§  Place the bottom pastry sheet on an oven plaque that you will have previously covered with a floured parchment paper sheet. Place the fish on the pastry sheet and with a brush or your finger, humidify the area around the fish for a better sealing, taking account of the areas for the fins and tail that you will shape in the pastry. Cover the fish with the top pastry sheet and adjust it so that it fits the fish shape with as less air as possible. Press with your fingers and palm around the fish and the anticipated fin and tail area, to have the top sheet adhere to the bottom sheet.
§  With a knife, draw and/or cut (depending on your manual skills, mine are poor) a shape around the fish and the anticipated fin and tail area, and with the back of your knife, slightly incise the border on 0.5 centimeter for a better sealing.
§  Use some pastry trims to make a little ribbon that will separate the pastry fish head from the body, and make an eye. With a small cookie cutter or the larger part of a pastry pipe, draw scales on the pastry skin. Then, brush the whole with the yolk diluted with a little bit of water and slightly salted.
§  Place the fish in the 420 F preheated oven and set  up the oven to 360 F for around 40 minutes or till your crust takes a nice golden color.
§  Meanwhile, make a sauce with the fish trims and chopped shallot heads seared in a little bit of olive oil, deglaze with dry white wine and let evaporate the alcohol, then, add the herbs and let reduce, add some water if need be, strain (remember: the fish skin was not scaled!) and before serving, put back to boil and add soft butter (at room temperature, it won’t work if the butter is too cold) while gently stirring to emulsify your beurre blanc.  
§  It is the ready to serve, here, with vegetable roots cooked in butter and sweet limonade (ftr, I added the concentrated cooking juice to the beurre blanc), part of the crust and the sauce.
§  And little final tip, when you have finished your plate, just take some leftover crust and dip it in the sauce. Just divine!!!