Oaths, Oafs & Oeufs — Quenelles

July 26, 2011

Oath (ōth) n., 1. a solemn usually formal calling upon God or a god to witness to the truth of what one says or to witness that one sincerely intends to do what one says. 2. a solemn attestation of the truth or inviolability of one’s words.

I am slightly breaking my silence about the reckless Republican debt ceiling crusaders performing their Barnum & Bailey act in DC’s big tent recently. Unlike a circus though, it is not really amusing to see a party wantonly intent on bureaucratic paralysis and fiscal carnage for some warped “cause” urged by rogue ideologues.

So, the mantic vows these people offered to different daddies seemed worthy of a look-see.

All members of Congress took a solemn oath to the people of this country:

I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

But, many of the very same members of Congress also signed an oath to a select few:

I pledge to the taxpayers of the district or state and to the American people that I will: ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or business; and TWO, oppose any reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.

Those members of Congress that inked this other oath pledged that under no circumstance—not war, nor government debt default, nor infrastructure failure nor any national calamity—will they tolerate any increase in government tax revenues. Regardless of what happens, these members swore to resolutely oppose any tax increase, even for the wealthy, and that tax loopholes and business subsidies must remain immutably fixed without a tax rate reduction of similar size.

“So help me God,” huh? Seems more mephistophelean. Almost every House Republican and most Republican Senators made a pledge to another master that actually nullifies part of their oaths of office. Despite their solemn oath to the citizenry, their blind allegiance lies with some private concern most voters did not even realize existed. When these same politicians officially swore to their country to “bear true faith and allegiance” to their country and the Constitution “freely” and “without any mental reservation,” they were prevaricating.

Oaths are not subject to venial side deals, and swearing to uphold both covenants is both duplicit and complicit. Pledging away an oath is forked tongue stuff. Almost like taking an oath “to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; so help me God” with a parenthetical ending that whispers “well, just sometimes, when it suits me.”

Meanwhile, on to more eternal, and less childish, thoughts. My youngest is drifting about Santa Barbara this week…lucky soul. Today, he revelled in the awe inspiring marine mammal life in the Channel, replete with big blues, breaching humpbacks, cavorting dolphins and sea lions. Others lurked unseen below the surface, including halibut which reigns with local fishermen. It seemed an apt vicarious pick.

The California halibut is a species native to the Pacific coast, from Washington to the Baja, and is much smaller than its more northern cousin. They have small scales that are embedded in their skin, with both eyes located on one side of the head. They start life with an eye on each side, but very soon the left eye migrates to the right. The darker top side is olive green to dark brown, while the underside is white which is an adaptation to conceal the fish from predators.

Quenelles have become associated more with a shape, not so much an ingredient. These delicate dumplings are formed into ovals similar to eggs with spoons using ice creams, sorbets, rice, potatoes, cheeses, vegetables, poultry, fish and meats.

HALIBUT QUENELLES WITH SAFFRON AND FENNEL BEURRE BLANC

Pâte à choux
1/2 C water
4 T cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Pinch of sea salt
3/4 C all purpose flour
3 large eggs, room temperature

In a medium heavy saucepan, combine the water, butter and salt and heat over medium high heat. Whisk occasionally, then once the mixture boils immediately remove from heat. Add the flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms and the mixture comes away from the sides of the saucepan; return to low heat and continue beating until it dries out and pulls away from the pan, about 1-2 minutes.

Scrape the dough into a bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a flat paddle. Beat the eggs into the dough, one at a time, beating thoroughly between each one. It is important to make sure that each egg is incorporated into the batter before adding the next. The dough should be well aerated and ultimately have the consistency of very thick mayonnaise. Make sure the pâte à choux is well chilled before you combine with the fish.

Quenelles
1 1/4 lb skinless, boneless halibut filets, cut into 1″ pieces and chilled
3/4-1 C heavy whipping cream
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Grating of fresh nutmeg

Put the fish, pâte à choux, salt, pepper, nutmeg and some of the cream into a chilled food processor bowl fitted with a cold steel blade and blend until smooth. Process by pulses, scraping the sides with a spatula. If the mixture seems stiff, add more cream in small doses until the mixture holds it shape well like a mousse. It should be able to shape well in a large spoon.

Bring salted water in a deep heavy skillet to a slow simmer. Never allow the water to move beyond a bare simmer as you cook.

With a large (2 T) wet spoon, dip out a rounded mass of the cold quenelle paste. Smooth the top of the paste with the bowl of an inverted second large wet spoon. Then slip the second spoon under the quenelle to loosen it and drop it into the simmering liquid. Repeat with the rest of the paste. The idea is to shape the mousse into ovoids and gently place in the simmering water. Dip the tablespoons into cold water after shaping each quenelle. Poach them uncovered for 15-20 minutes. When done, they should have almost doubled in size and should be able to roll over easily in the water. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on towels.

Beurre Blanc
2 C dry white wine
1 C champagne vinegar
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground white pepper
1/2 C fennel bulb, finely minced
Pinch saffron
12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

Boil wine, champagne vinegar, salt, pepper, fennel and saffron in small saucepan over medium heat until liquid is reduced to 4 tablespoons, about 15 minutes. Whisk in half the butter, piece by piece, until it forms a creamy paste. Set saucepan over low heat and continue vigorously whisking in a piece of butter at a time just as the previous piece is almost fully incorporated. The sauce should have the consistency of a lighter hollandaise. Remove from heat, season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm, so it does not separate.

Spoon a layer of sauce in shallow soup bowls. Arrange a couple of quenelles on top and spoon some more sauce over them. Serve.

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