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Category Archives: Fish

Clams with fresh pasta: Pâtes fraîches aux palourdes


Clams and pasta, pâtes fraîches aux palourdes

Clams and pasta, pâtes fraîches aux palourdes

One French word: frais; a French recipe: Pâtes fraîches aux palourdes

Clams (palourdes in French)

Clams (palourdes in French)

We have just had exceptional tides here in the Finistère, together with storm winds, enormous waves and torrential rain. But when the tide is out, far out, the sands are dotted with people digging for shellfish. Palourdes are plentiful this week, and cheap for once, so I bought a few to spoil myself.

The French bit:

frais (masculine adjective), plural frais, feminine fraîche, plural fraîches.

Examples: de la crème fraîche (fresh cream), du pain frais (fresh bread), une haleine fraîche (nice breath), des fruits frais (fresh fruit), des huîtres fraîches (fresh oysters). The noun is la fraîcheur (freshness), which can also be used of temperature: la fraîcheur du matin (the cool of the morning).

My recipe is simple and delicious, you just have to be able to get hold of palourdes or clams. You can quite well use dried pasta, just adjust cooking times, and it doesn’t have to be tagliatelle.

Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 2 shallots (finely chopped)
  • 1 heaped tbs salted butter
  • the outer leaves of a nice, fresh, green lettuce
  • a large glass of dry white wine (you can also use cider, I did)
  • 2 tbs thick fresh cream
  • a handful of chopped green onion stems
  • 1kg small clams (or palourdes if you can get them)
  • 300gr fresh tagiatelle
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Clams and pasta, 068

  • If you are not sure your clams are clean and sand free, place them in a bowl of cold water with a cup of vinegar for half an hour, they will spit their sand out. Drain. (Should you by any chance have harvested them yourself, you can leave them in a bucket of sea water overnight to get rid of their sand.)
  • Wash the lettuce leaves, roll up tightly, and cut into a chiffonnade, that is, very fine slices, excluding the stalks at the end.
Chiffonnade

Chiffonnade

  • Warm your dinner plates.
  • Put salted water on to boil for the pasta.
  • In a heavy bottomed pan, melt the butter and fry the shallot until transparent.
  • Add the glass of white wine, stir, bring to the boil and throw in the clams. Stir and put the lid on the pan. Lift the lid and stir occasionally so that the clams cook evenly. They should just open, if you cook them longer they will be tough and tasteless. This takes only a few minutes.
  • Put the pasta into the boiling water in the other pan. Bring back to the boil. Fresh pasta should only cook for a couple of minutes, watch it carefully so as not to overcook it.
  • Add the cream to the clam saucepan and some freshly ground black pepper, stir well, turn off the heat.
  • Drain the pasta.
  • Place a layer of chiffonnade on each serving plate, place pasta on top, leaving some lettuce showing (it adds colour and some nutrients), ladle clams on the top of the pasta, with a generous serving of juices. You can also, and I think this is more typically Italian, add the pasta to the clams and stir before serving, to coat the pasta with the juices.
  • Serve quickly with fresh, crusty bread.

Bon appétit!

Clams and pasta,  066

Portuguese baked fish and crispy potatoes


One French Word: morue, a recipe for Morue à la portugaise (salt cod and potatoes as they cook it in Portugal)

Morue à la portugaise

Morue à la portugaise

Cod, fresh or especially salted and/or dried, has long been a staple of the peoples living along the Atlantic coast of Europe (and probably of America and Canada too). Now cod is becoming rare, but in the last couple of centuries, men in rather small boats would leave on extended trips to colder waters around Iceland and Newfoundland, braving dangerous seas and foul weather, to earn a living catching this precious fish. Nowadays trawlers are small factories, with freezers. Then the fish was gutted, spread open, salted and dried, and the result was a sort of elongated triangular board.

It is still sold like that, the cook must soak it for days to ready it for cooking. But it is also sold rehydrated in vacuum packs, which only need soaking for a matter of hours to rid it of excess salt. The taste is quite different from fresh cod and the Portuguese especially are past masters at preparing it.

One of the most famous and delicious dishes using salt cod is the French Caribbean recipe for accras de morue, crispy mouthfuls of fiery fish and chili, which I shall certainly publish here one of these days. And brandade de morue, a sort of garlicky mixture of mashed potato and salt cod.

The French language bit:

morue (feminine noun), une morue, la morue, les morues = salt cod

Fresh cod, that has not been salted, is cabillaud (le cabillaud, du cabillaud), a fillet of cod is un filet de cabillaud, a slice of cod is une darne de cabillaud, a nice fat chunk from the back of the fish is du dos de cabillaud.  

De l’huile de foie de morue = cod liver oil   

Un pinceau queue de morue = a broad flat brush used by painters (literally cod’s tail paintbrush)  

My recipe today is for morue à la portugaise, a dish of baked cod layered with a little tomato and a lot of potato, the top layer of which crisps up beautifully in the oven. It should be eaten as soon as it is cooked, it does not re-heat well especially because the potato loses its crackle.

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for 4-6 people:

  • 400gr salt cod
  • 600gr potatoes
  • 1 hard boiled egg per person
  • 2 medium onions, finely sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed with a cleaver and roughly chopped
  • A little tomato sauce (optional) (homemade, or in a jar, spaghetti sauce with olives is what I used)
  • A dozen stoned black olives (unless they are already in your tomato sauce)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Mixed chopped herbs to garnish

You should need NO salt

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Preparation:

  • Soak the pieces of cod for about 10 hours changing the water regularly (unless you have found already de-salted cod). Carry out this stage carefully; nothing worse than going to all this trouble only to find your dish is too salty to eat.
  • Tear the cod into large bite-sized pieces or strips.
  • Pre-heat the oven at 180°C.
  • Wash the potatoes (no need to peel them) and cut into very fine slices (1mm or 2 thick).
  • Fry the onion in a little olive oil until transparent, add the pieces of cod, stir and turn off the heat.
  • Coat the bottom of a casserole dish with a little olive oil.
  • Place a good layer of potatoes in the bottom of the dish. Pour all the cod and onion mixture on top, and add the crushed chopped garlic and a spoonful of olive oil.
  • Grind some black pepper over this mixture, and sprinkle the olives and tomato sauce sparingly over the top.
  • Place another layer of potato on top of this, and end with an artistic layer, carefully overlapping the slices.
  • Dribble about 3tbs olive oil over the whole top layer. (The Portuguese put much more than this!)
  • Pop the dish into the oven for about 45 minutes. The top layer of potato should be browned and very crispy.
  • While the cod is cooking, hardboil an egg per person, shell and slice.
  • Serve piping hot with crusty bread, green salad, and slices of hard boiled egg (optional but this is the way it is done in Portugal), sprinkled with fresh herbs.

CIMG6034

This is not an expensive dish, the only difficulty being to remember to start soaking the salt cod well enough ahead of time.

CIMG6038

Bon appétit!

One French word: moutarde, a French recipe: maquereau à la moutarde


Maquereau à la moutarde

Maquereau à la moutarde

Mackerel is just about the cheapest fish you can buy. And one of the healthiest. It is full of the fish oils we should all be eating, and it is caught wild, it cannot be farmed. When I was a child in Dorset, my father used to take us mackerel fishing from Weymouth, in a small fishing boat.  The catch was always abundant, which was exciting, and we had mackerel in the freezer for quite a few meals. They are such attractive fish, a bit bony, but iridescently  beautiful.

At the fishmonger in France, you can ask to have your mackerel filleted. It makes it easier to avoid the bones, of which few remain. I don’t know if you can get your local fishmonger to do this. If not, mackerel is actually one of the easiest fish to deal with oneself.

The French language bit:

moutarde (feminine noun), une moutarde, la moutarde = mustard. Pronounced mootard (see header audio clip above).

France produces several types of mustard, of which the most famous comes from Dijon. It is strong, and there are several variations, often flavoured with other ingredients such as tarragon or grape must.

Moutarde comes from the Latin mustum ardens (burning (hot) grape must, also the origin of the English word “mustard”). The Chinese cultivated mustard for its seed 3000 years ago, and the ancient Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans used it to add savour to their food.

There is a French expression La moutarde me monte au nez!”

which means literally, “the mustard is going to my nose”, in other words, “I am getting angry” or “I am growing impatient”.

My recipe is for mackerel with a cream and mustard sauce, maquereau à la moutarde. It is quite simple, calls for few ingredients, and doesn’t make the whole house smell of fish!

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for two people:

  • 1 large mackerel, filleted (or if you really can’t fillet it or get it filleted, leave it whole, but cook it for twice as long to make sure it is cooked through).
  • 100ml liquid cream
  • 2tbs Dijon mustard (if you can’t find Dijon, use a good strong flavoursome mustard, nothing sweet)
  • half a glass of dry white wine
  • 2 fresh figs, or fresh apricots, or another sweet, fresh fruit
  • freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:

  • Spread the underside of the mackerel fillets with the mustard. Grind fresh pepper on top of that.
  • In a shallow pan with a lid, heat the cream and place the mackerel fillets skin side up (mustard side down). Place the lid on the pan, and simmer gently for 3 minutes.
  • Turn the fillets with two spatulas so that you don’t break them, add a teeny bit of water if the sauce is too thick, replace the lid and simmer for another 3 minutes.
  • Check that the fish is cooked through, but not over-cooked or it will crumble as you serve it. Remove the fillets to two separate, warmed, plates. Add the white wine to the cream and mustard remaining in the pan, and use a gravy whisk to mix it into the cream and get rid of any little lumps there may be.  Spoon the sauce over the fillets, garnish with the fig opened up into four from the top side (see photo)  and serve with boiled potatoes if you wish, or just a green salad.

Maquereau moutarde1

In your country, are fishmongers accommodating? Do they offer to scale and fillet fish? I’d be really interested to know whether we are indeed privileged in France!

One French word: moules, a French recipe: moules marinières

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The French language bit:

moule, feminine noun (une moule, la moule, des moules) = mussel (pronounced mool, never say the s in the plural) 

I remember in 1965, arriving at my grandparents’ house in Bordeaux in south-western France with my younger brother on one of the hottest days in living memory. My diminutive grandmother, still then a fantastic cook, although she forgot how at the end of her life, trotted out to the fishmonger next door to get fresh mussels, and made us a big panful of moules marinières. Here’s how she did it:

Main ingredients for moules marinières

For 4 people as a main course you will need:

  • 2-3 litres (or kilos, depending on how they are sold) of fresh mussels
  • a bunch of fresh parsley
  • 4 plump shallots
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 60gr butter
  • a glass or two of dry white wine
  • pepper (you shouldn’t need much salt)

Mussels cleaned and ready to cook

A word about buying mussels: there is a season for mussels, which varies depending where you are in the world. Mussels are best and plumpest when they are in season and should be firmly closed when you buy them. There are always a few that are not; these should be discarded. They should be cooked immediately and eaten the day they are bought, from a reputable fishmonger where the fish is fresh, well prepared and on lots of ice. Best not to buy them when it is too hot, best also to have a cold bag to bring them home in.

To prepare mussels, tip them all into the sink, and under running water and with a small sharp knife, check through each and every one. Any that are broken or that do not close promptly when you press them shut, throw in the bin. Debeard them by pulling on the bit of weed that comes out of one side of the shell with the knife. As you prepare them, put the clean ones into a colander. It doesn’t matter much if, after sorting them, any of the ones in the colander open up. They were closed a short while ago, and are about to be cooked. If any mussels have barnacles on the outside of their shells, scrape them off.

Peel and chop the shallot and garlic. Wash and chop the bunch of parsley.

In a very large pan, over moderate to high heat, put the butter, the shallot and garlic and a little pepper. Add the glass of wine and boil briskly to reduce a little and soften the shallot and garlic. (You can also use good quality wine vinegar instead of wine if you wish, they are very good that way too and in fact that is how I usually cook them.) Add the mussels all in one go, put the lid on the pan, and shake quite vigorously. Cook for a minute or two, raising the lid to see if the mussels are opening, stir to bring the bottom mussels up to the top and distribute the shallot evenly.  Add the parsley and a couple of grinds of the pepper mill. You should not need to add salt. Put the lid back on, stir again, and as soon as all the mussels are open, serve without delay. There is NOTHING worse than an overcooked, shrivelled mussel. They should be steamed in their own liquid, just open, and very moist. Ladle into large individual bowls with some of the liquid, and keep the unserved ones warm.

Don’t use forks to eat mussels, choose a largish shell, remove and eat the mussel, and then use that shell as an eating iron, pinching and grabbing successive mussels with it. And to save space, don’t just chuck your shells into a bowl, pile them up neatly as in the photo below.

Don’t forget to spoon up the juice or to pump it up with pieces of fresh bread. Serve the mussels with chips (French fries) as the Belgians do (the French copy them more and more). Moules frites   you will see that on menus all over France.

Bon appétit!

One French word: anis, a French recipe: saumon en papillote à l’anis


A nostalgic parenthesis: do the British among you remember aniseed balls? Do they still exist? The size of a small marble, deep rusty red, but when you sucked them they became white and your tongue went rusty red instead? And when you got right to the middle after hours of work, there was the prize: a single aniseed to crunch between two incisors! My favourites when I was little.

 The French language bit:

Anis, masculine noun (l’anis) = aniseed (pronounced a-neesse, or sometimes a-neee), but you never say un anis or des anis. If you want to say one aniseed, or lots of aniseed, you say une graine d’anis, or des graines d’anis (one aniseed seed, or lots of aniseed seeds). 

Anisé = aniseed flavoured, such as all the Mediterranean apéritifs, pastis in the south of France, ouzo, raki, arak… each Mediterranean country has its version.

I bought some organic aniseed the other day, not for any particular purpose, but I have since been using it for making tisane (herbal tea), lovely, a teaspoonful with boiling water poured over it and a bit (or not) of honey. And you can eat the seeds when you’ve drunk the tea!

Aniseed is very different from fennel, or dill, or cumin, or caraway. I use it in this recipe for salmon: saumon en papillote à l’anis and it complements the fish perfectly.

You will need a piece of salmon per person. I prefer slices across a fillet (called le filet in French), not through the whole fish with the bones (called a une darne). A teaspoonful of aniseed per portion, and a little butter or cream.

Preparation:

  • Heat the oven to 180°
  • Prepare large squares of aluminium foil or greaseproof paper, and place a piece of salmon on each
  • Salt and pepper each portion and add the aniseed
  • Place a teaspoonful of butter or cream on top of the lot and close the papillote
  • Cook in the oven for about 12 minutes for a small portion, 15 minutes for a larger. Don’t overcook salmon, it must be moist

Serve with new potatoes and some fresh crunchy celery. Salmon always looks so lovely next to something pale green like celery or cucumber.

Bon appétit!

One French word : coquille St Jacques, a French recipe: coquilles St Jacques au thé vert


Coquille St Jacques, feminine noun (une coquille, la coquille, des coquilles) (pronounced ko-ki-y) (no particular stress).

Une coquille = a shell. Une coquille St Jacques = a scallop shell, or a scallop, but the meat of the scallop alone is called une noix de St Jacques. Un coquillage is a smaller shell, the type you find on a beach.

The scallop shell, the coquille St Jacques is so called because it has been the symbol used since the 12th century by pilgrims walking to St Jacques de Compostèle. A carved scallop shell is to be found on the front of houses used by pilgrims at stopover points. The history is too long to set out here, look it up, it’s very interesting.

Widely used in French cuisine, very seasonal, coquilles St Jacques can be cooked in such a variety of ways and are so delicious that they are a real gift to the cook.

Coquilles St Jacques au thé vert

My recipe today is for St Jacques au thé vert = scallops in green tea, which is based loosely on a recipe I found in my frozen food store’s magazine; it just gave me the idea.

In France, the coral of coquilles St Jacques is highly prized. I know that in some other countries it is not. Whatever the reason, the coral certainly makes for a better and more exciting presentation.

Be careful what type of scallops you are buying; there are several types which call themselves scallops but which are not as big or as flavoursome (particularly the very tiny ones). I have used large French pecten maximus. They are the very best when you need whole molluscs for presentation, big and fabulously tasty. Chlamys opercularis are smaller but still sweet tasting. These are better used when making sauces or vol au vent (puff pastry cases). Zygochlamys patagonica come from Argentina and are similar to opercularis. The ones you are most likely to find in North America are Placopecten magellicanus from Canada. These are large and have good flavour when fried, poached or steamed. Don’t overcook scallops. They should be seared or steamed, coated in sauce and served rapidly.

Raw coquilles st jacques (apologies for the blurred photo)

For two people you will need:

  • 6 large coquilles St Jacques
  • 1tbs Japanese Sencha or Gyokuro green tea, or another variety of your choice, but they must be high quality leaves
  • a mixture of snow peas, broad beans, soy beans and water chestnuts (I can buy the mixture already done and frozen (at Picard Surgelés for readers in France), you may probably have to mix your own), about 200gr per person in all. Don’t miss out the water chestnuts, they give a good crunch.
  • 1tbs Kikkoman soy sauce (do not use just any old soy sauce, you’ll ruin your recipe)
  • 1tbs olive or peanut oil
  • 1 large tsp honey
  • salt, pepper

Preparation:

  1. If they are frozen, soak the coquilles St Jacques in the fridge overnight in a mixture of milk and water. If you have fresh ones, use them as they are.
  2. Make an infusion of green tea: 1tbs in 20cl of water not quite at boiling point (boil a kettle, wait two minutes, then pour). Filter the tea after 3 minutes, keep the leaves.
  3. Prepare your vegetables, whether fresh (steam for 15 minutes)  or frozen (a couple of minutes in the microwave). Divide between two bowls, add a little salt and pepper, and keep warm.
  4. Pat the scallops dry. In a hot, non stick pan, sear the coquilles with no oil or butter, for about 1 minute on either side. Take them out of the pan and put them to keep warm with the vegetables.
  5. To the pan add the oil, soy sauce, honey and tea, and cook briskly to reduce to a syrup.
  6. Replace the coquilles St Jacques in the pan and cook briefly, not more than a minute altogether, turning to coat in the syrup.
  7. Transfer them back on top of the vegetables, add any juice left in the frying pan, sprinkle with a few of the tea leaves you kept on the side. These are actually quite good, and you may find you want to add a few more.

Seared scallops

Cooking the scallops briefly in the syrup discolours them because of the soy sauce. If you prefer not to have them discoloured, sear them for a shade longer, and do not put them in the syrup. Just place them on top of the vegetables and pour a little syrup on top.

This is an unusual and delicate dish, suitable as a starter for a classy dinner party, or as a main dish (if I were doing it as a main dish, I’d add some cooked udon noodles in the bowl under the vegetables).

Coquilles St Jacques and lovely green vegetables

Drink green tea to accompany, of course.

Bon appétit!

One French word: coriandre, a French recipe, saumon au four, pesto de coriandre


Coriandre, masculine noun (le coriandre, du coriandre – one never says un coriandre or des coriandres) = coriander (UK Eng.), cilantro (US Eng.), (pronounced korrie-aan-dr, both rs in the back of your throat, slight stress on the first syllable).

A lot of French people (including me at one time, I have to say) put coriandre in the feminine, which it is not. I once lost a bet on this.

Coriandrum sativum (picture from Wikipedia)

Coriandrum sativum is widely cultivated for its culinary and medicinal properties but it also grows wild all around the Mediterranean. The leaves, the root and the dried seeds are all used. It is good for the digestion.

My recipe for today is for saumon au four, pesto de coriandre = baked salmon with coriander (cilantro) sauce.

Saumon au four, pesto de coriandre

For 2 people you will need:

  • 1 tbs slices spring onion greens
  • 1 very small clove of garlic (don’t put too much or it completely masks the other flavours)
  • 4 tbs roughly chopped coriander (cilantro) (stems and leaves)
  • salt, pepper
  • 4 tbs olive oil
  • a large handful of pine nuts

Some of the ingredients

Le saumon

La papillotte

Preparation:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C
  2. Peel and boil the potatoes. This will take 20 minutes from boiling point.
  3. Place a portion of salmon on each sheet of paper, salt very slightly, grind a little black pepper, and close the parcel. Add no butter or oil.
  4. Cook  for 12 minutes in the hot oven.
  5. In the meantime, put the coriander, garlic, pine nuts, spring onion and olive oil, with a ¼tsp salt and 4 turns of the pepper mill, into a mini mixer and grind, pushing down the ingredients which stick to the sides, but leaving some texture. Not too pulpy in other words.
  6. Drain the potatoes, open the salmon packets, and run a knife between the fish and the skin (often the skin sticks to the paper a little and it is easy enough to leave the skin behind). With a fish slice or a spatula, transfer the salmon without its skin to individual serving plates.
  7. Cut the potatoes into chunks, spoon a little pesto over them and the fish, and garnish with sprouted seeds.

I cook a lot in little packets (papillottes), it is quick, clean and easy.

Pesto de coriandre

This pesto is also good on cold beef, pasta or rice, and as a basis for vinaigrette for salads (just thin it with a little vinegar). It will keep in a jar in the fridge for a couple of days.

Saumon et pesto

Bon appétit.

I have to go away for a week or so, and I shall not be connected to internet. So try as I might to pre-publish posts, I have not been able to accomplish a week’s worth. My challenge is broken, too bad, I’m not too worried about that really. I’ll get going again in March when I’m back.

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