Decoding Professional Kitchens: The Poissonnier Station
In our first blog for our Decoding Professional Kitchens series, we discussed the Saucier station, mainly responsible for creating sauces for all the dishes served in the kitchen. This week we'll be taking a deep dive into the world of the station responsible for preparing all seafood and fish dishes, commonly known as the Poissonnier Station.
The traditional kitchen brigade system contains a vast variety of roles and without question, one of the most niche and respectable stations is the Poissonnier station.
The word "Poisson" means fish in French and the word "Poissonnier" translated directly from French to English is "Fishmonger". This can be a little misleading to most people that are not familiar with the culinary industry and supply chain.
While the Poissonnier and Fishmonger both handle fish, a fishmonger is traditionally recognized as a fish salesman and not part of the kitchen staff. That being said, the Poissonnier and the Fishmonger do meet, and quite regularly in fact as the Poissonnier the first task of the day is heading over to the fish market to pick out the raw materials that will be used in the kitchen later that night.
Expertise in Ingredients
The Poissonnier must be very familiar with different types of fish as they will have to purchase, and account for its freshness and quality. Most high-end restaurants contain at least one to three main course seafood meals, commonly including fish such as Salmon, Tuna, Cod, Tilapia, and Pollock. Beyond just fish, the Poissonnier must also be familiar with other seafood commonly served in restaurants. Crabs and lobsters are extremely popular and served in main courses, although it is not uncommon to see them used in entrees and salads as well. Other popular seafood selections include scallop, shrimp, oysters, squid, and octopus; therefore, it is essential for the Poissonnier to have a good understanding of not just how to cook these ingredients, but also check for quality and freshness.
Poissonnier often uses a plethora of techniques and tricks to pick out the best fish in the market for service. There are a couple of common ways to understand whether a fish is fresh or not, and the most common way of knowing is to analyze whether the fish passes:
- the smell test
- the gills test
- the eye test
A fresh fish will typically have clear, firm eyes with large pupils, red gills, and have a mild odor (the opposite of what we would traditionally consider a "fishy smell"). Once a Poissonnier gathers all the ingredients for that night's service, it's time to head to the kitchen and store the fish in the fridge. While restaurants differ in their method of storage, the optimal way to store fish is to wrap it and place it on ice in the fridge. This helps the fish stay as fresh as possible in the hours between preparation and opening. If all meat ingredients used for service are placed in the same fridge, fish are typically stored at the highest level possible, on top of beef, pork, and poultry respectively to avoid cross contamination.
Tools of the Trade
A Poissonnier must be extremely comfortable using a plethora of sharp knives and other tools in order to prepare the fish.
When it comes to knives, the standard set used by the typical Poissonnier includes:
- A boning knife (approximately 5-inches in length)
- A filleting knife (approximately 6-inches in length)
- A steaking knife (approximately 10-inches in length)
The boning knife is the first to be used on fresh fish. It is primarily used for removing the head and the bones from the flesh. The filleting knife, as its name states, is used for filleting the fish. It is made from soft stainless steel which allows the knife to bend, making it easier for a Poissonnier to get a smooth cut. Lastly, the steaking knife is used to create larger steaks of meat and cut through larger bones.
Fun fact: While traditionally not regarded as Poissonnier, Sushi chefs are known to use the Yanagiba knife, which is a long (10.5-inch) daggerlike blade to skin their fish and create sashimi. The other popular option for sushi chefs is the Santoku knife, which when translated to English from Japanese, means "Three virtues". This is an homage given to the blade’s impeccable ability to cut fish, meat, and vegetables. This all-purpose knife features a flat body with a slight curve which allows for an extremely smooth chopping motion.
Since knives are the most important tool for Poissonnier, a trusty knife roll becomes an important culinary accessory for these chefs. Chef Sac’s Padded Knife Roll is popular amongst fish and meat chefs. The bag has 9 slots for knives and tools with a dedicated slot for the cleaver. This knife roll is made from water-resistant, 600D high-grade polyester. The safety straps secure the knives in position so you don’t have to worry about them while traveling.
Other useful tools in the Poissonnier kitchen arsenal include pliers for picking out bones, stainless steel scalers for scaling the fish, scissors for trimming fish, and last but not least, a trusty pan to cook on.
During service, the Poissonnier is traditionally in charge of all menu items that include fish. This puts the station in a unique position as it will have to coordinate and communicate with other stations, particularly the Saucier and Entremetier station in order to have the final dish prepared.
While the Poissonnier may be in charge of preparing and cooking fish, the station is often also responsible for any soups, stock, and sauces that are to be included in the fish plate. This means they will have to communicate and coordinate with other stations in the brigade system to bring out the final product to the customer. It is not uncommon for the Poissonnier to work with the Saucier (Station in charge of sauces) and the Entremetier (station in charge of soups and stocks) in order to have the dish prepared as these stations end up sharing a part in the process of making certain menu items.
While the Poissonnier is a station essential to any high-end restaurant that serves seafood, it is not uncommon to see the roles of the Rotisseur and Poissonnier merged in modern kitchens as both stations are responsible for handling and cooking meat. This means that to the average chef, the Poissonnier station is regarded to be an extremely traditional and niche role in the brigade system.