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Good sauce saves flabby fish fillet


SOMETIMES A good sauce can save supper. Or so I am told. Even though this never happens to me, let's pretend something was cooked much too long.

Let's say the something was a fillet of fish and that instead of closely monitoring its progress as it sat on the barbecue grill, you instead played catch with your kid in the alley.

Continuing this make-believe scenario, let's say that when you returned to the grill you began grilling a mango instead of removing the fish from the fire.

That's right, a mango. You whacked it into two pieces, sliced a cross-hatch pattern into each piece, grilled them for a few minutes, then brushed them with ketchup -- yes, ketchup -- white vinegar and sugar, and tossed them back on the fire for a minute.

The next thing that happened, in this purely hypothetical supper situation, was that when the hunk of fish was lifted from the fire, the once-firm fillet was as limp as a dishrag. Not only did it fall apart when you tried to lift it with a pair of tongs, it almost dissolved when you merely touched it with a spatula.

This wasn't weak fish. This was flabby fish.

Somehow you got this fish to the table and managed to transfer some to your plate. Its posture was bad. Its texture was worse. Its flavor was mushy. It looked as if supper was going to be an all-mango meal.

Then, let's pretend that a sauce arrived on the scene. Let's say it was a green sauce, made with dill, cilantro, Dijon mustard, olive oil, sherry-wine vinegar, sea salt and capers.

Perhaps it came from the Provence region of France. Maybe, just maybe, you found the sauce in a cookbook written by Patricia Wells that contains recipes inspired by her farmhouse in France.

Finally, when the sauce showed up on the table, let's pretend you covered the mushy mound of fish with spoonfuls of the verdant sauce. It could be that it looked like mashed potatoes covered with green gravy. Perhaps that is pretty much what a forkful of the mixture felt like in your mouth.

But maybe this sauce had such fine flavor notes that it was able to work miracles, to resurrect the deceased -- in this case, the long-dead fillet -- and make it a passable, if not prize-winning, dish.

I am not saying this happened. But if you, or a cook you know, ever finds yourself with some dried-out fish, try this sauce.

It probably tastes even better when it is spooned over a hunk of correctly cooked fish. But that, too, is just a theory.

Makes 1 cup

2 tablespoons sherry-wine vinegar

fine-grain sea salt to taste

2 tablespoons imported Dijon mustard

1 handful of carefully destemmed dill and cilantro (sorrel, parsley, mint and tarragon also can be used)

6 tablespoons olive oil, extra-virgin if you have it

2 tablespoons minced capers

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, salt and mustard. Set aside. Using sharp scissors, or a chef's knife, finely chop leaves of herbs. Set aside. In the bowl of a food processor, combine all ingredients, including olive oil and capers, and process until well blended. Taste for seasoning. Transfer to small bowl and serve. Sauce can be refrigerated, well sealed, for 2 days.

-- From "Patricia Wells At Home in Provence" (Simon & Schuster, 1996)

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