Boy · Dahl

Bestemama & Bestepapa’s Poached Fish with Hollandaise & Boiled New Potatoes

Author: Dahl, Roald
Book: Boy: Tales of Childhood
Difficulty rating: Anna Karenina
Deliciousness rating: NEWTRoald Dahl Day - FeatureThis was a Norwegian household, and for the Norwegians the best food in the world is fish. And when they say fish, they don’t mean the sort of thing you and I get from the fishmonger. They mean fresh fish, fish that has been caught no more than twenty-four hours before and has never been frozen or chilled on a block of ice. I agree with them that the proper way to prepare fish like this is to poach it, and that is what they do with the finest specimens. And Norwegians, by the way, always eat the skin of the boiled fish, which they say has the best taste of all.
     So naturally this great celebration feast started with fish. A massive fish, a flounder as big as a tea-tray and as thick as your arm was brought to the table. It had nearly black skin on top which was covered in brilliant orange spots, and it had, of course, been perfectly poached. Large white hunks of this fish were carved out and put on to our plates, and with it we had hollandaise sauce and boiled new potatoes. Nothing else. And by gosh, it was delicious. (Dahl 57)

Notes from Miko:

Flounder isn’t exactly common in San Diego, and we at 36 Eggs felt it was more true to the book to get the freshest fish possible rather than finding the exact type of fish. Luckily, Jenne and her family are highly experienced at ocean fishing, so she and her dad made ready their plans. They bought a half-day trip off Point Loma and went off on their mission:

Jenne and Her Dad’s Quest for “Fish That Has Been Caught No More than Twenty-Four Hours Before and Has Never Been Frozen or Chilled on a Block of Ice”:

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Ready to fish! You may recognize my hat from when Miko wore it to Snark Out
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Dad getting our gear ready — we didn’t actually use lures, just hooks and weights. Then, breakfast in the galley.
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We stopped at the bait barge to pick up anchovies and sardines.
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The lovely San Diego harbor.
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I caught a fish! Here’s the deckhand trying to get it off the hook for me.
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A triumphant return!

Cleaning and Gutting the Fish (Trigger Warning for Vegetarians & Vegans!):

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Look at this haul! 
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Demonstrating proper cleaning technique.

Here’s Dad explaining how to clean the fish–unfortunately we didn’t have a real sushi knife so it looks a bit awkward. Also, he has a lung condition, so please excuse the heavy breathing!

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Just grab onto the gills and pull them right out, he said… And yep, there they are. Lovely.
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Adapted from Help with Cooking and ExploreNorth‘s recipes
Difficulty rating: Harry Potter

Deliciousness rating: NEWT

  • Whole fish, cleaned and gutted with its fins cut off (except for tail)
  • Water (3 liters)
  • Vinegar (3 tbs)
  • Salt (9 tbs)
  • Whole peppercorns (1.5 tsp)
  • Lemon (3 wedges)
  • Parsley (3 stalks)
  • Bay leaf for luck


1. Boil a large quantity of water, enough to cover the whole fish. For each liter of water, add 3 tbs salt, 1 tbs of vinegar, 1/2 tsp whole peppercorns, 1 wedge of lemon, and 1 stalk of parsley. Let it simmer for 10-15 minutes.

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Miko bought this poacher especially for this project. (Totes worth it.)

2. Place the fish on the poaching rack and lower it into the water. Add more water if the water doesn’t cover the fish.

3. Bring it back to a boil and then lower to a simmer until the flesh loosens easily from the backbone. A small fish weighing 10 oz (285 g) takes about 8-10 minutes and larger fish weighing several pounds will require around 15-20 minutes.

4. Remove the fish and drain. Transfer to a serving dish to cool.

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We had a moment of panic wondering how to get the fish out of the poacher without shredding it to bits…and then we realized that’s why there’s a rack inside it! OH.
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I just picked the tail up and all the meat fell off.
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Recipe adapted from Cooking the Norwegian Way by Sylvia Munsen
Difficulty rating: Green Eggs and Ham
Deliciousness rating: Exceeds Expectations


  • New yellow potatoes
  • Small handful of salt
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1 tbs chopped fresh parsley


1. Put potatoes in a pan of cold, salted water. (The water should just cover the potatoes.)

2. Cover the pan and place over high heat. Allow potatoes to boil until tender (about 15-20 minutes). When a fork goes into potatoes easily, drain off water.

3. Put the lid back on the pan and return to stove to keep warm. Add parsley before serving.

Adapted from Julia Child and Tyler Florence‘s recipe, along with advice from the doctor of hollandaise
Difficulty rating: Pride and Prejudice
Deliciousness rating: Outstanding


  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tbs water
  • 1 tbs fresh lemon juice, if needed (or more)
  • 6-8 oz very soft butter
  • 1 dash cayenne pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh ground white pepper, to taste


1. Whisk the yolks, water, and lemon juice in the saucepan for a few moments, until pale and doubled in size.

2. Set the pan over a bowl of hot water and continue to whisk at reasonable speed, reaching all over the bottom and insides of the pan, where the eggs tend to overcook.

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Exhausted fro whisking, but happily anticipating eating hollandaise sauce. Seriously, SO MUCH WHISKING.
3. As they cook, the eggs will become frothy and increase in volume, and then thicken. When you can see the pan bottom through the streaks of the whisk and the eggs are thick and smooth, remove from the heat.

4. By spoonfuls, add the soft butter, whisking constantly to incorporate each addition. As the emulsion forms, you may add the butter in slightly larger amounts, always whisking until fully absorbed. Continue incorporating butter until the sauce has thickened to the consistency you want.

5. Season lightly with salt, pepper, and a dash of cayenne pepper, whisking in well. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding droplets of lemon juice if needed. Serve lukewarm.

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LOOK HOW LOVELY AND DELICIOUS. (We added a side of asparagus even though it wasn’t strictly authentic.)

Did it measure up?

YES. We are now even more aware of how lucky we are to live in San Diego, where seafood is readily available. Fresh fish is a glorious thing. And so is hollandaise. Many thanks to Jenne’s dad, Peter, for joining us on our mission.


Dahl, Roald. Boy: Tales of Childhood. New York: Puffin Books, 1984.

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