Fish Fillets with Turnips in Saffron Sauce

This is an astonishingly good, easy, and exotic ancient Roman recipe from “The Roman Cookery of Apicius: A Treasury of Gourmet Recipes & Herbal Cookery,” translated by John Edwards.

Although the ancient Romans had access to spices from the orient, they lacked all of the “new world” vegetables that we associate with modern Italian cooking — tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, corn, potatoes, green beans, zucchinni, etc. Their ingredients are therefore quite different from what we might expect, but surprisingly good. The sauce in particular is excellent.

2 lbs white fish fillets (flounder, tilapia, haddock, grouper, basa, catfish, etc.)
2 cup vegetable stock for poaching
1 tbsp olive oil
6 medium turnips

Saffron Sauce:
1 tsp cumin seed
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 cup sweet white wine (like Rhine or Moscato)
2 tsp honey
1 1/2 cup fish stock (can use the fish poaching liquid for this)
2 tbsp olive oil or butter
2 tbsp rice flour (or all-purpose flour)
pinch of saffron
cider or white wine vinegar for diners to sprinkle on at the table

Peel the turnips and steam or boil until soft, then mash and spread on a serving platter.

Poach the fish fillets lightly in stock and a little olive oil. Place the poached fillets on top of the mashed turnips, season with saffron sauce (below), and serve with a grind of pepper and a small dish of vinegar for sprinkling at the table.

Grind the cumin and pepper corns together in a mortar or spice grinder. Combine with white wine, honey, the poaching stock, and olive oil or butter. Bring to a boil and simmer for 25 minutes to reduce it a bit, add saffron for color (I also snuck in some turmeric for added color), then thicken with rice flour (see NOTE). Pour the sauce over the cooked fillets and turnip puree and serve with a small bowl of vinegar on the side for those who would like some sprinkled on their fish.

NOTE: You can substitute white flour or grind rice in a spice mill or mortar. The Indian grocery “International Foods” at 42nd & Walnut also carries rice flour.

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