The term «en meurette» refers to a dish that has been braised in a particularly delicious red wine sauce from the Burgundy region of France. Probably the best known of these dishes is oeufs en meurette, made from poached eggs. But even tastier, in my opinion, is fish made this way. The firm-fleshed monkfish (lotte in French) lends itself to braising and is wonderful en meurette. Carp and other firm-fleshed river fish are typical, so in the US a natural choice would be the humble catfish. It may be suprising to pair catfish with a ‘classy’ French sauce but I assure you, gentle reader, that the pairing results in some fine eating.
Begin by pouring a bottle of red wine into a saucepan and adding a sliced carrot, a sliced onion, a crushed garlic clove, a chopped shallot and some fresh herbs—some parsley, a spring of thyme and a bay leaf—then season with a pinch of salt and some whole peppercorns. Simmer briskly until the wine is reduced by half. Strain the reduction through a sieve into another saucepan, then thin out the sauce with some good stock. Bring back to a simmer and then thicken the sauce with some beurre manié, about two tablespoons of flour and butter rubbed together to make a paste. You can add some more if you feel the sauce is too thin, but remember that the sauce will reduce further during the next step and you only want to give the sauce to be nice and silky, not at all stodgy.
While your wine is reducing, make the garnish for the fish by sautéing in butter or oil a goodly chunk of slab bacon or pancetta, cut into lardons, until well browned but not crisp. Set aside and, in the same skillet, sauté some button mushrooms that you have cut into quarters until they, too, are nicely softened and browned.
Now assemble your dish: butter a braiser just large enough to hold all the ingredients and lay out your catfish fillets—one large fillet is enough for two people—cut into serving pieces. Then arrange the mushrooms and lardons on top and around the fish pieces. Pour over your red wine sauce, enough to just cover them. Then bring the dish to a simmer and let it cook gently until the fish is done, about 10-15 minutes depending on the size of the pieces (and the fish—monkfish should braise for much longer). If you like, just before serving you can sprinkle the fish with some chopped parsley or, even better, a persillade—parsley and garlic finely chopped together.
NOTES: As usual, I’ve been vague about the measurements, and they really don’t matter all that much. You can really use as much or as little garnish as you like—many recipes omit the garnish altogether, but I find that it makes the dish more interesting and tasty. The same goes for the sauce itself, but most recipes for 4-6 people will, as indicated above, call for an entire bottle of red wine.
The choice of wine will, of course, strongly influence the character of the dish. This being a dish from Burgundy, the logical choice would be a red from that region, but last night I used a Spanish tempranillo with lovely results. Some recipes (including those given in the Larousse Gastronomique) also call for adding a splash of Burgundy marc.
Not all recipes have you make the wine reduction separately as indicated in this recipe—you can also add the wine and aromatics to the main ingredient and let it reduce as they simmer together, thickening the dish at the very end. With this method, the aromatics are left in the dish. But I find that making the sauce separately gives you more control over the result and, since I like to use a bacon and mushroom garnish, I like to take out the aromatics after they’ve given up their flavor into the dish.
As mentioned at the start, you can use the same red wine sauce to nap poached eggs or, for a more rustic effect, poach eggs directly in the sauce. Other ingredients can be made en meurette, including mild meats like calf’s brains, chicken, rabbit or veal, in which case you usually lightly brown the meat before simmering it with the sauce and any garnish you might like.
Dishes en meurette are often served with fried croutons. I find that they also go well with steamed baby potatoes or buttered noodles.