Pike quenelles or dumplings are an ancient preparation in Europe, dating back at least to the Renaissance. It makes perfect sense if you’ve ever worked with pike. They are a bony fish, and require some special handling. (Here’s how to do it.) This recipe modernizes the venerable quenelle and serves it in an unexpected-but-rockin’ broth.
A quenelle (keh-nell) is just a dumpling made with two spoons. My friend Becky has a great video on how to make a quenelle. You can of course just make little balls out of the mashed pike, but these look more refined, and are not hard to make.
Most recipes for fish quenelles would have you serve them in über-rich sauces like Pike Nantua or the actual recipe I got my quenelles from, a great little cookbook called Spoonfuls of Germany: German Regional Cuisine. Most involve heavy cream or cheese or both, and are just impossibly heavy, at least to me. That said, the Germans do another thing with their myriad dumplings: They serve them in clear broths. I have several such dishes on this site, but this is the first involving fish.
The obvious choice would be a fish broth, but I do that a lot. I do happen to love the combination of seafood or fish with chicken broth — somehow it accentuates the fish itself without making the whole dish fishy — but I wanted to go another route. Mushroom broth is what I came up with, just as a lark, really.
Damn. What a score! This is a dark, rich umami bomb of a broth. You’d think it would overpower the light fish, but they balance. The quenelles tame the broth a bit, and the broth boosts the dumplings, which are pretty subtle.
You’d get a whole different experience if you changed the broth, which I encourage you to do if you make this recipe several times. The dumplings become the canvas to paint on. Served with, say a fish fumet or a carrot consommé, it’d be a very light soup course. This mushroom broth makes it a main course.
Bottom line is that this dumpling recipe can be your go-to not only with pike, but with any bony fish, or with really any fish where you can’t get a nice clean fillet. Perch, panfish, small catfish, carp, you name it. I bet orange dumplings made with salmon would be cool.
You can play with the seasonings, too. Add some minced fresh herbs. Skip the nutmeg and white pepper and go with something zippier. Maybe mustard or freshly grated horseradish? Or even zipper: cayenne or chipotle powder and cilantro. Have fun. Play. Just do yourself a favor and make some fish dumplings someday soon.
Pike Quenelles (Dumplings) in Broth
- 2 slices of white bread, crusts removed
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 pound pike meat, or any fish
- 1 egg white
- About 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper (optional)
- A few gratings of nutmeg, about 1/4 teaspoon
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 1 small onion, chopped, about 1 cup
- 3 black garlic cloves or roasted garlic cloves
- 1/2 to 1 ounce dried morel mushrooms
- 1/2 to 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- 1/4 to 1/2 ounce black trumpet mushrooms (optional)
- 1 quart broth (chicken, duck, vegetable)
- 3 cups water
- Soy sauce
- Start with the broth, if you are making it. Saute the carrot, celery and onion in the olive oil until they are soft and the onion is translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the black garlic (or roasted garlic) cloves and mash them into the vegetables.
- Add the mushrooms and pour over the broth and the water. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot and simmer gently for at least 90 minutes, and 2 hours is better. Strain the broth through a paper towel set in a fine-meshed strainer into a bowl. Season it with the soy sauce. Pour into a clean pot and keep warm.
- To make the dumplings, soak the crustless bread in the milk for a bit, and then mash it into a paste with a fork. Run the fish through the fine die of a meat grinder, of chop it coarsely and buzz it into bits with a food processor; don't let it become a paste, though.
- Mix the fish into the bread paste with the remaining dumpling ingredients. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Form quenelles or little balls of the pike mixture -- use teaspoons for soups like this, tablespoons for serving by themselves -- and drop them into the boiling water. When the dumplings float, cook them for a minute more and then put them in the bottom of soup bowls.
- When all the dumplings are made and in the bowls, bring the broth to a bare simmer and pour over the dumplings in the bowls. Garnish with something green, like parsley, chervil, chives or lovage.