Saturday, January 8, 2011

Pompano en Papillote with Green Peppercorn Garlic Shallot Butter Sauce

     Pompano is an elegant delicate tasting tropical fish.  Pompano always commands a higher price on a restaurant menu.  This fish is best with lighter flavored sauces and preparations.  You do not want to mask the flavor of this fine white fish with heavy rich sauces.  Coumpound butter, beuure blanc, vin blanc glace and butter creams are classic sauce styles for pompano.
     I have cooked a few tons of Florida pompano during my career.  Both Florida pompano and African pompano are considered to be among the finest of gourmet fish.  Pompano are vegetarian, so they are caught with gill nets.

     I was working at a trendy seasonal restaurant in Florida with a couple of really wild party animal cooks.  We always were going out and doing crazy things after work in the middle of the night.  One of the cooks was a huge Iroquois Native American and he weighed almost 350 pounds.  He had a 16 foot long canoe.
     We once got the bright idea to go out in Sarasota Bay with that 16 foot canoe and use a 200 foot long gill net to catch some pompano at midnight.  A 16 foot canoe with no running lights at night is not exactly a good choice for an ocean going craft!  The case of beer we were drinking helped us to make the decision that the small canoe would be just fine for netting pompano in the middle of the night.
     We paddled out in the middle of the bay and started dragging "half moons" with the gill net.  The canoe was slowly leaking and we occasionally had to stop to bail water out of the canoe.  The huge 350 pound Iroquois cook was in the back of the canoe, so my end of the canoe was raised out of the water most of the time because of the big guy's weight.
     It must have been a funny sight to see!  A canoe with one end above the water, slowly leaking with dozens of empty beer bottles floating around in it.  It was even funnier seeing us pull that 200 foot gill net around the bay while drunk.
     We felt a good bit of weight on the net and the floats were bobbing in the water.  We knew that we had netted a good catch of pompano!  Well, we started pulling the 200 foot long net in by hand in the dark.  We had some moon light shining down, so we could see what we were doing.  When we noticed that some of the first pompano in the net were half eaten by sharks, we absolutely went berserk trying to get the net in the boat, before the sharks ate all of the pompano on the net.
     We got side tracked from the duty of occasionally bailing the water out of the leaking canoe.  We got the net into the canoe with almost 75 pounds of whole pompano in the net that were not half eaten by sharks.  We also had about 30 pounds of pompano that were half eaten by sharks in the net.
     The odor of fish blood in a leaking canoe is like a shark magnet and that is not a good thing.  We looked at each other when we saw the water flooding the canoe and I said "We are going to be shark bait in a minute, unless we bail all this water out of the canoe right now!"
     No sooner than we got the water bailed out to a safe level, the tide had changed.  We paddled as hard as we could for two hours, against the tide, just to make it back to the key island in the bay where we started from.  The front end of the canoe was riding high out of the water because of the weight of that 350 pound cook, the beer, the sea water and the pompano that were at in the back end of the canoe.  I had to lean over the gunwale of the canoe just to reach the water with my paddle.  Every once and a while, a fish would jump out of the water at me while I was trying to paddle.  That is a bad sign that indicates there is a shark in the water underneath the canoe.  That was all the inspiration that I needed to paddle harder to try to get back to shore!
     When we finally got back to shore where started, we both passed out from exhaustion.  It was quite a physical effort to get back to shore.  When we sobered back up.  We used the half eaten pompano that the sharks were dining on as bait on a fishing line to catch some bigger fish.  It was almost sunrise when we decided to call it quits for the night.
     We cleaned and iced down the 75 pounds of whole pompano.  We showed up at the restaurant later that day to work the evening shift and to sell the pompano.  We got $6.00 a pound for the 75 pounds of pompano.  We looked at each other and said "Lets do it again tonight!"
     I cannot say that I was not a crazy Florida girl in those days.  You have to be crazy to go out to net pompano in a small leaky canoe, like we did in the middle of the night! 
     Filleting Pompano: 
     The first couple of photos show the proper way to filet pompano so no meat is wasted.  This is how fish is cut at a good fishery.  I worked at a fishery restaurant that was located at the docks of a Florida bay.  Fishing boats dropped their catch at our docks.  There is no way to get fresher fish than that!
     I started work at 6:00AM and cut fish till 4:00PM.  Then we all took a break, before setting the kitchen up to open for the dinner business at 5:00PM.  I then cooked dinner in the restaurant till 11:00PM at night.  That is a long work day schedule, but good money was made!  At a fishery restaurant, long hours and a good rate of pay are only offered to those who are good at what they do.  Being good at what you do means working fast and wasting nothing!

     Cut behind the head along the gill line and follow the gill line, with the knife angled into the back of the head.  (Cut a vertical slice behind the gill down to the back bone.)  
     Cut through the skin on the top edge of the fish. 
     Use a slicing motion that glides between the meat and the bones.  The knife scraping against the bones should be felt.  Continue running the blade against the bones along the entire length of the fish, while rolling the meat away from the carcass, till the filet is no longer attached to the carcass.  
     Place the filets on a cutting board with the skin side down.  Press the tail end with your fingers and run a filet knife between the skin and the meat, to remove the fish skin.
     Two knife slices on both sides of the pin bone line will allow the pin bone section to become free. Pull the whole thin pin bone section off of the filet.
     The fish head and bones can be used to make a fumet for another recipe.

     Pompano en Papillote with Green Peppercorn Garlic Shallot Butter Sauce:
     Clean, gut, filet and skin 1 whole fresh pompano.
     Heat 3 pats of unsalted butter in a saute pan over medium low/low heat.
     Add 2 teaspoons of minced shallot.
     Add 1 minced garlic clove.
     Sweat the shallots and garlic together, till they become tender and sweet.  The shallots should be clear in color at this point.
     Remove the pan from the heat.
     Place the pompano filets on a large piece of parchment paper that has been brushed with butter.  The parchment paper should be a few inches wider than the fish filets.
     Spoon the shallots and garlic butter over the pompano.
     Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice over the pompano.
     Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of dry white wine over the pompano.
     Season with sea salt and white pepper.
     Sprinkle about 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of canned brine packed green peppercorns over the pompano.
     Brush a second large piece of parchment paper with butter.
     Lay the second parchment paper sheet over the fish.
     Use kitchen shears to trim the parchment sheets so they are at least 2 inches larger than the shape of the fish.
     Fold the edges of the parchment paper to seal the fish inside the "paper bag."
     Place the pompano en papillote on a baking pan.
     Bake the pompano en papillote for about 10 to 12 minutes in a 350ยบ oven.
     Note:  The baking time depends on the size of the pompano.  After the parchment bag puffs up like a balloon in the oven, then it should be done baking and the fish will be steamed from its own juices and the sauce.
     Set the pompano en papillote on a serving platter.
     Open the parchment paper with a sharp knife at the table.
     Use a spatula to set the pompano filets on a serving plate.
     Serve with a potato and vegetable of your choice.
     Spoon the thin green peppercorn, shallot, garlic and butter sauce from the papillote over the pompano filets on the plate.
     The aroma of the pompano and butter sauce that escapes when the papillote is cut open is mouth watering!  Pompano is a very light, clean and tender tropical fish and the light tasting green peppercorn and sweated garlic shallot butter sauce does not overwhelm the delicate flavor of the pompano.
     Pompano en papillote is one of the most famous entrees that there is.  One taste and you will see why!  Yum!  ...  Shawna


  1. Gotta love the story! Anyone that has done that kind of fishing after drinking has to appreciate the story!And the recipe sounds yummy. Just got some fresh pompano this afternoon so I am off to cook it!Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. Thanks! That was a wild night!