Saturday, July 18, 2015


At my house, summer entertaining tends to be very simple”—casual, salad meals or barbecue on the terrace. But every now and then I want something a little “dressier.” This elegant fish terrine fills the bill. 

Cold fish terrine, lovely for summer entertaining.
Prepared a day or two in advance, the terrine is served cold. It can be sliced and plated as a starter or served, like a pâté, as an apperitif, with mini-toasts to spread it on. In either case, a fruity white wine or sparkling cava goes very nicely with it.

My terrine is a variation (I´ve added chopped zucchini and carrot) of the famous pastel de cabracho of three-star Michelin chef, Juan Mari Arzak. Back in the 1970s it became a signature dish of the nouvelle cuisine Basque, according to Chef Jeffrey Weiss, who includes a recipe for Chef Arzak’s terrine in his book, CHARCUTERÍA--THE SOUL OF SPAIN (Surrey Books-Agate; 2014).

Cabracho, scorpion fish, has big flavor.
Cabracho, or scorpion fish, is an ugly fish, usually red or ruddy in color, with a bony, maily-cheeked head. But its firm flesh is white and extremely flavorful. Once considered a “trash” fish, suitable only for the stock pot (de rigueur for bouillabaisse), scorpion fish has become a sought-after fish. (In Spain, it’s also called escorpena, rascacio, polla de mar, gallineta and cap-roig.)

Redfish, rockfish and sculpins are related species and could be used in place of the scorpion fish. Or, you could use any fish you like for this terrine. Salmon would work.

Fish Terrine
Pastel de Cabracho

Slice the terrine and serve as an elegant starter.

If possible, have the fish vendor prepare the fish. Scale and gut it. Cut off and save the large, bony head. Split the head in half. Open up the body section, but don’t worry about removing the spine yet.

To make the broth for poaching the fish, I used a spice and herb blend called Louisiana Crab Boil (because I just came back from New Orleans and I'm using it for everything!). Like mixed pickling spices, it contains mustard seed, coriander seed, cayenne, bay leaves, dill seed and allspice. After cooking the fish and flaking the flesh, the head and bones can be returned to the broth to make a flavorful stock, which can be frozen for a future use.
Flaked fish for the terrine.

The flesh of the scorpion fish is white. It is tomato sauce that gives the terrine its salmon color. Use homemade tomate frito (recipe is here) or canned tomato sauce.

I watched a TV chef make pastel de cabracho (check it out here.) He lined the mold with plastic wrap. The terrine bakes at a very low temperature, so the plastic film doesn’t degrade. It really seemed to help in unmolding the terrine. However, all I had was a really low-quality plastic wrap and I did not want to chance using it.

So, I did have trouble unmolding my terrine, which emerged in two pieces. However, the soft-set terrine can easily be smooshed together and smoothed with a palette knife. 

Serve the terrine with a sauce, if you like. I riffed on salsa rosa (pink mayo), by substituting fire-roasted red peppers for the ketchup.

Smooth over any breaks with a palette knife. Looks pretty good!

Serves 8-12.

1 whole scorpion fish, 2 – 2 ½ pounds, cleaned
6 cups water
1 teaspoon Crab Boil mixed spices
1 carrot, peeled
1 stalk celery
1 leek
1 teaspoon salt
Shrimp heads and shells (optional)

1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup finely chopped leek (white part only)
½ cup finely diced zucchini
¼ cup finely diced cooked carrot
2 tablespoons white wine
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup tomate frito (smooth tomato sauce)
6 large eggs, beaten
2 -2 ½ cups flaked fish
½ cup raw peeled shrimp, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon hot pimentón (paprika), not smoked
2 tablespoons fine fresh bread crumbs
Boiling water
Salad greens to garnish
Crisp toasts to serve
Sauce to serve (optional), recipe follows

Sprinkle the fish head and opened body section with salt and allow to set for 30 minutes.

Bring the 6 cups of water to a boil with the mixed spices, carrot, celery, leek and 1 teaspoon salt. Boil 10 minutes.

Lower the fish head and body into the fish broth. Cook 4 to 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to lift the fish head and flesh from the broth. Remove and reserve the carrot too. Let the fish cool. Set the pot of broth aside.

Once cooked, it's easy to remove bones.

When the fish is cool enough to handle, carefully separate the flesh from the head and body and reserve it. (If desired, return the boned-out head and other bones to the pot of broth. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and reserve the stock for another use. It keeps well in the freezer and can be used for fish soups)

Use your fingers to shred or flake the fish, removing any remaining bones. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

In a medium skillet, heat the oil and sauté the chopped leek until softened, 3 minutes, without letting it brown. Add the diced zucchini and cook 3 minutes more. Stir in the wine and cook on high until liquid has evaporated. Dice the reserved cooked carrot and add it to the skillet.

Add the cream to the skillet with the vegetables.. Bring it to a boil and immediately remove from the heat. Pour the contents of the skillet into a mixing bowl.

Stir in the tomato sauce, then whisk in the beaten eggs. Season with salt, pepper and pimentón. Fold in the flaked fish and the shrimp.

Set terrine in pan of water.
Have ready a 2-quart terrine mold that has been lightly oiled and dusted with bread crumbs. Pour the fish mixture into the mold. Set it in a larger pan and place on oven rack. Add boiling water to the larger pan to half the depth of the terrine mold.

Bake the terrine 10 minutes. Lower heat to 250ºF. Bake until a skewer comes out clean, about 90 minutes.

Remove the terrine from the oven and from the pan of hot water. Allow to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate at least 12 hours and up to 36 hours.

Run a knife around the edges or the terrine. Place a serving plate on top of the mold and carefully turn it over, allowing the terrine to unmold onto the plate. If not to be served immediately, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (up to 2 hours).

To serve, slice the terrine and place on individual plates garnished with salad greens or serve it on a buffet table accompanied by crisp toasts. Serve with sauce, if desired.

Serve the terrine with sauce or without.

Salsa Rosa
Pink Cocktail Sauce

2 roasted red peppers
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 clove garlic (optional)
1 tablespoon brandy
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Blend all of the ingredients. Serve cold.

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