Haddock Quenelles in Saffron Fish Broth

Light, fluffy dumplings swimming in a flavorful pool of delight, inspired by a character from the past.

Dec. 31, 1985, was memorable on several counts. First of all, I made a lavish New Year’s Eve feast inspired by the vintage cookbook “Francatelli’s Modern Cook” 1887, a revision of earlier editions. I had picked this up for a buck at a bookstall, and loved browsing its yellowed pages. Francatelli, a British cook of Italian parents, loved the French touch and grand displays. He was chief chef to Queen Victoria for several years, chef to other nobility, famous club houses, and hotels. He was also a noted cookbook author, this particular book being in print for a half century with 29 editions. You may have enjoyed this flamboyant character in the PBS series “Victoria,” a series I highly recommed.

Labor intensive

Francatelli was quite a character indeed, a celebrity chef of the time, known for his difficult personality in his kitchens. In the introductions to his books, he refers to himself entirely in the third person, The Author. (see below)

Now, this “modern cook” for whom the book was written must certainly have had wealth and resources, and quite a staff! While there are elaborate menus for just six, some of the plans are for hundreds, and many of the menus are for special meals served to the Queen. I can only imagine how many people it took to prepare and serve them. A village’s worth, I’m sure.

Many of the sample menus in the book consisted of only two courses. However, and this is a big however, each course could have as many as 10 or 12 dishes, including lots of fishes, shellfish, and rich meats, creamy filled savory puff pastries and vegetable sides, but always far more protein than greens! The finish was often an egg course such as a soufflé or omelet, followed by a few sweet dishes. Some of the menus for Queen Victoria included over two dozen dishes per course!

I didn’t do all that. But I did make six courses, for six people, cooked by me, and served with the help of my friends. No pheasant or quail, no haunch of venison, and no sheep’s tongue in creamed spinach. I remember fussing over a few special dishes such as Potatoes Dauphinoise and Whitefish Quenelles, but much of the food was made in advance and kept warm. We grazed the courses through many hours while we waited for the New Year to arrive, and even without footmen, it was a really special experience.

A night to remember

The second memorable event of the night was the news that Ricky Nelson’s airplane had crashed killing all aboard. What a shock! We heard the news on a radio playing softly in the background, just a news flash, there was little else to report. We put on a record or two (I vaguely remember singing Garden Party), then toasted in the New Year with prosecco (I spent the bulk of the budget on the food!). Well after dessert, we finished the evening, or rather morning, with more prosecco and omelets with fine herbes in early morning.

The third memorable event was after everyone else had left, my husband-to-be and I decided to get married. Was it the meal? I’d like to think so!

Of course, we’ll change them up a bit

I’ve made the quenelles only now and then over the years, changing the recipe along the way, but just for fun, I’ve included the original instructions below. My most recent change was to use mashed potatoes rather than a breadcrumb/milk panade as a binder. I also whipped the egg whites to give them even more texture. They are beautifully light and fluffy, with lots of flavor. I used haddock because it is so flavorful and in season, but as in the original recipe, you can use any whitefish you like!

I made my own fish stock from shrimp shells and haddock bones, but you can usually find a nice one at your fish market if you don’t have the time, or the kitchen staff…

Haddock Quenelles in Saffron Fish Broth

  • 2 cups mashed potatoes
  • 1 lb. haddock or other white fish, chopped
  • 1 scallion, chopped
  • ½ cup light coconut milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • Few grates of nutmeg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 leek, whites and light green, sliced
  • 1 bulb fennel, diced, reserve fronds
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 celery rib, diced
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 quart fish stock
  • 1/2 tsp. sweet or hot paprika
  • Generous pinch of saffron
  • 4 or 5 mini sweet peppers, fine slice
  • 1 Jalapeño pepper, finely minced

In a food processor, combine potatoes, fish, scallion, coconut milk, salt, and pepper, nutmeg, and yolks. Process until very smooth and pasty. Remove to a large bowl. It should be smooth and sticky.

In a small bowl, whip egg whites to soft peak. Add 1/3 of the whites to the fish mixture to lighten it up. Then, gently fold in the rest of the whites, and salt and pepper to taste. Place in refrigerator for two hours to completely chill.

Make the broth. In a large saucepan, sauté the leek, fennel, carrot, and celery until soft and tender. Add the tomato paste and garlic and sauté for another minute or so. Add the fish stock, paprika, and saffron, season with salt and pepper to taste, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes. Strain, correct seasoning if necessary, return to the pan, and keep warm. 

Shape the fish mixture into the classic quenelle form using two large spoons. Fill one, place the second over the top like a mold, press to compact, then scoop on the other spoon. You want the finished product to be egg shaped. However, if you don’t care about the shape, just use a packed, small ice-cream scoop, quicker and more uniform.

Bring a large pot of water to a gentle boil. You want them to float, not touch the bottom of the pan. Place the quenelles in the water and poach until firm, it only takes a few minutes, turn them over to cook evenly. 

While the quenelles are poaching, lightly sauté the peppers for about a minute in a little olive oil. You want them to just soften, but keep their vibrant color. Add these to the broth.

When ready to serve, place the desired number of quenelles in a soup bowl and spoon over broth. Three is supper, one in a pretty little dish is a perfect starter for a grand New Year’s Eve feast. Garnish with fennel fronds.

Quenelle of Whiting –– C.E. Francatelli

Charles Elmé Francatelli

            “Filet four large whitings, after having previously skinned them; pound them in a mortar, and force the produce through a wire sieve with a wooden spoon. To this substance, add equal proportions of bread panada and fresh butter; pound these effectually, so as to mix them well together, add two whole eggs, and the yolks of two others gradually; season with pepper and salt and grated nutmeg. Mix well by pounding the quenelle vigorously, and then take it up into a basin for use as required. Quenellles of any sort of delicate fish is prepared in a similar manner. 

“Roll it with a little flour into the form of a round ball, put it into a small stewpan half full of boiling water; place it by the side of the fire to simmer for three minutes, after which take it out and cut it into halves, taste it in order to ascertain if it be correctly seasoned, and see, that when cut asunder, the inner part presents a smooth, light, compact surface.”

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41 Comments Add yours

  1. Stew Read says:

    Tasty

    1. Thank you! It was delicious!

  2. Suzassippi says:

    What a wonderful story! The quenelles look beautiful, too.

    1. Thank you so much! It was a night to remember!

  3. Ally Bean says:

    So many courses! I cannot even imagine it. And how great that you made some of them. What an adventure in cooking.

    1. It was one of those things that mushroomed into a life of its own. I found the book, started reading through it, got the little idea of making a dish or two that I never had before. Then I was going to invite a couple of folks over to try “IT” and then it became New Years Eve and a couple became six and IT became a bunch of courses of things I’d never had! It was a blast, but next time, I’ll hire a few assistants and cute footmen!

      1. Suzassippi says:

        I will trade my “line staff” cook skills for an invitation to the shindig. 🙂
        When I lived in Texas, we had a little group that frequently ate together. As I was the most accomplished cook of the group, dinner always fell to me, but the rest of them were great at prep and clean-up! I heartily recommend this approach. Have a lovely weekend, and I will look forward to seeing more recipes!

      2. Thank you Suzassippi! I am indeed usually the cook, but I have quite a few friends who love to cook too and they are always ready to lend a hand, the friends I can hand a grapefruit to and ask him to supreme it! There are others that are happy just to slice up the bread and chat. It’s all so good, and I’ve missed this so much the past year.

      3. BERNADETTE says:

        The inability to have friends over and cooking together was a major source of sadness for me too. Thank God we now can resume that part of our lives.

      4. Counting the days now!

  4. chef mimi says:

    What a great read! Oh, I’d forgotten about poor Ricky Nelson. My first quennelles were on january 25, 1982, the night we got married. We eloped, so we got married by ourselves in Lahaina, Maui, and had dinner that night at a fancy place. I was so taken with them that I had to ask! Pillowy little things as part of a mahi-mahi entree. Wow. And I’ve not really thought of them since then! Thanks!

    1. I’m glad you liked the post. I had never even seen quenelles before I made them that night, and I really loved them. So funny that we both have a little wedding connection with quenelles from about the same time period!

    2. BERNADETTE says:

      Now that is one interesting quenelles story.

      1. It was fun writing this one!

  5. capost2k says:

    Looks fantastic! Next on my “thief’s list” of recipes to steal and try out! 😉

    1. Thank you! All thieves welcome! ❤️

  6. The quenelles look so light and airy, and the sauce must have amazing flavors. The background stories make the dish even tastier!
    Thanks for introducing this interesting chef. Browsing in such old cookbooks is so much fun. 🙂

    1. Thank you Ronit! I must admit, I had a ball looking through that old cookbook, with all its amazing recipes and engravings. I had myself believing I could cook for the queen!

  7. Carol Taylor says:

    A wonderful post… a story and quennelles which look delicious…I miss having company and cooking for a few people such fun…maybe soon again…sigh…Lovely post Dorothy the cookbook sounds divine:) x

    1. Thank you Carol! It was fun putting this together. I miss entertaining too, but I had my second shot on Friday so in two weeks I’m planning to have a nice little dinner. At this stage, I’ll definitely take little!

  8. Looks so yum. Saffron in fish is new twist to me.

    1. Thank you! The saffron was delicious in this.

  9. Wow! Beautiful memories! This sounds and looks absolutely delicious! I love the combination of flavours! My Granda used to make a soup with fluffy quenelles and I used to love it! What a great addition to a soup 😋😋

    1. Thank you! Sounds like you have some nice memories of quenelles as well. I don’t know why I don’t think of these more often!

  10. What an incredible meal! 👏👏👏

    1. Thank you Gail! It was lots of fun to put together!

  11. Wonderful recipe and thank you for the background to Francatelli . and bittersweet connections to the dish. I bought a Mrs Beetons’s when I was cooking for a living and her recipes could have fed the five thousand.. but it was very useful when I was preparing breakfast, lunch and suppers for 120+ every day. Her portions were about right… thanks for sharing Dorothy..hugs

  12. What a fabulous recipe and your presentation is beautiful!

    1. Thank you Diane! I had fun with this one.

  13. Sumith says:

    I am much dire for eat this dish right away. I really enjoyed reading your blog post 😍

    1. Thank you so much! We certainly enjoyed this one, as well as the memories attached.

  14. terrie gura says:

    Delightful read, Dorothy! At first glance, this dish reminded me of matzo ball soup! Haha
    I had never heard of quenelles before this, but I love haddock, and of course, the fennel! They look so pillowy floating in the broth that must have been so fragrant with the saffron. I’d like to be an assistant in your kitchen for a day! 🙂

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. They actually did remind me a little of some exquisite matzo ball soup I had many years ago, thank you for the reminder!

  15. My daughter collects vintage cookbooks, she has a couple of Italian cookbooks from her aunt. This as always looks yummy and done with love so you know it taste good. I remember that plane crash event with Ricky Nelson. I didn’t know him as a star but had heard of him. I think he had a daughter that I watched in 80’s teen movies though and now I can’t remember her name. I was in Highschool at the time. My mom was so freaked out by all the small plane crashes she grew up hearing about that she never would fly on them. She remembered the news on the Patsy Cline crash from long ago too. She was around 12 when President Kennedy died. History would repeat itself it would seem again when I was 12 and there was an attempt on President Reagan but he survived. Time sure does fly by, that doesn’t seem like that long ago.

    1. So many interconnected memories! The Ozzie and Harriet show ran for many years on television until 1966, and Ricky was a teen idol and singer. As a kid, I was much more interested in the Beatles and I don’t think we got the channel on our rural antenna television system that was a slave to the weather and wind. Isn’t it funny how these tragic deaths (and attempts) remain so ingrained in our personal histories. I was a child when Kennedy was killed, but that day will remain in my mind for ever. There was so much tension, and so much grief.

  16. cassmob says:

    Yum, this dish looks and sounds delicious though I’m glad you gave us the modern version,

    1. Thank you! I like to bring recipes up to date, while keeping the essence of the original.

  17. What a great story and a lovely recipe. Yours has evolved quite a bit from Francatelli’s original, with exotic ingredients like coconut milk. Interesting that you put the potatoes in the food processor — the first time I tried that was also the last, because the potatoes turned into glue. Perhaps it’s the other ingredients that prevent this from happening? I like the idea of fish quenelles in a broth, and may come up with my own variation.

    1. Thank you Stefan, it was indeed a night to remember!
      While ordinary, I would never put potatoes in a food processor because of the reason you suggested, but in this instance, I wanted that stickiness of the processed potatoes and it worked well, perhaps because they were lightened with the addition of the whipped egg whites, and I didn’t use the bread.
      I look forward to your own variation on Francatelli’s dish!

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