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Category Archives: Main courses

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!

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Spicy Indian potatoes and spinach – pommes de terre aux épinards à l’indienne


Spicy potatoes

Spicy potatoes

One French Word: épinards, a recipe for Spicy Indian potatoes and spinach

Spicy potatoes - main ingredients

Spicy potatoes – main ingredients

You either love or hate spinach. Most children won’t even come to table if there is spinach on the menu, but it’s a favourite vegetable of one of my little grandsons. Baby spinach leaves are preferable to larger, more mature ones, but the latter have more flavour. In India, spinach is used in an enormous number of recipes. Just wilted, it keeps its colour and a lot of its nutrients. I add a handful to all sorts of things – last night I had baked eggs with spinach, the day before the recipe I am about to share. I eat baby leaves in salad, wilted by pouring crispy bacon bits and their fat over them.

The French language bit:

épinards (masculine plural noun) (theoretically it has a singular but this is never used) = spinach (never pronounce the ‘s’ at the end of the word).

We saw last year that the circumflex (^^) often denotes a missing s in English, that is, if you put an ‘s’ in the place of the circumflex, you will sometimes be able to guess what the word means. It is often the same with an initial é. Replace it with an s and you will have, sometimes exactly, sometimes near enough, the English word. So épinards = spinach; épice = spice, I can’t think of any more right now.

Just one expression with épinardsmettre du beurre dans les épinards = to ameliorate something, to allow a little luxury (literally to add butter to your spinach), for instance a second salary will make everything easier = un deuxième salaire mettra du beurre dans les épinards.

And so to the recipe.

Ingredients for 1 person as a main meal, 2 people as a vegetable dish accompanying meat :

  • 1 very large potato
  • 2 large handfuls of baby spinach leaves
  • 4tbs corn or peanut oil
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger, about 2cm square, peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, finely sliced (the slices going from top to bottom and not across)
  • 1 smoked cardamom (they are large and black), opened up, the seeds only to be used (if you can’t find this, try green ones, or leave it out altogether)
  • 1tsp cumin seeds
  • 1tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbs turmeric (curcuma)
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1tbs mustard seed
  • a little salt
  • 1 tsp nigella seeds

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Preparation:

  • Cut the washed potato into 6 pieces (you do not need to peel it), place in cold salted water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15mns.
  • Wash and drain the spinach (you don’t need to pat it dry, just get rid of as much water as possible)
  • Drain the potatoes and cut into smaller pieces.
  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the spices and the garlic, the ginger and the shallot to the hot oil and fry for a minute or two, stirring.
  • Add the potatoes to the pan and stir to coat with the spices. Don’t be gentle with the potato, it is better if it crumbles a bit, it will go crispier later. Fry for 10 minutes on a medium heat, stirring and turning the potato pieces so that they brown on all sides. It doesn’t matter if the shallot colours and crisps up.
  • When the potato is quite browned, add the spinach to the pan, stir to wilt thoroughly, salt with great parcimony, as the spices have probably given enough flavour. You can always salt later if you find there is not enough.

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  • Sprinkle with a tsp of nigella seeds before bringing to the table.

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This is an excellent vegetarian dish, very satisfying. But if you feel you need meat, it can accompany any meat dish. Of course I cannot pretend to have invented this, but let us just say that I used no recipe to concoct it! I just pulled spices out of the cupboard and thought very hard of a dish I tasted in India.

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Bon appétit!

Pot au feu – classic beef and vegetable stew


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One French word: pot, a French recipe: pot au feu, classic beef and vegetable stew.

Half of France must eat pot au feu at the weekend in Winter. It’s a staple of the French diet, cheap and easy to do, comforting, and with its different variations on leftovers, lasts all week. If not a pot au feu, then a potée or a ragoût, variously named each according to its region.

Pot au feu literally means pot on the fire, and used to be a cauldron bubbling over an open hearth. Now of course it’s a presssure cooker more often than not (but not in my house, I’ve never understood pressure cookers).

Un pot au feu is always made with beef, cheap cuts that need ample stewing, with onions (des oignons), leeks (des poireaux), carrots (des carottes), turnips (des navets), sometimes swedes (des rutabagas) and parsnips (des panais), and of course potatoes (des pommes de terre). It should stew for hours and hours, until the meat is meltingly tender, and the vegetables, some of which are just added half an hour before serving, tender and colourful.

Une potée is usually made with pork, a hock (un jarret), some fat smoked sausages (des saucisses de Morteau for instance), a piece of salted pork belly (un morceau de petit salé), and maybe a trotter or two (des pieds de porc). Accompanied by vegetables as above, but often also a Savoy cabbage (un chou frisé) cut in two or four pieces, tops the pot. It is then known as une potée au chou.

Un ragoût is usually made with mutton (du mouton ou de l’agneau), pieces of neck (du collier) and belly (du sauté d’agneau), fried first with a large onion, to which beans of one kind or another are often added.

Another variation on this theme is a poule au pot,    an old hen, stuffed with rice (it then becomes une poule au riz), boiled for a couple of hours with vegetables as before.  Legend has it that Henri IV, a popular French king, who was nevertheless assassinated, but not before declaring that he would ensure that each labourer in his kingdom should have the means to place a poule au pot on his Sunday table! Here is a video on the subject which you might like to listen to to practise your comprehension of spoken French http://videos.tf1.fr/jt-13h/2010/henri-iv-et-la-legende-de-la-poule-au-pot-5852134.html

Since the word of the day is pot, here are a few expressions or meanings of the word:

un pot is a pot; a flower pot = un pot de fleurs; a chamber pot = un pot de chambre; a bribe = un pot de vin (literally a pot of wine); a drink = (just) un pot; to be lucky = avoir du pot; an expression “le pot de terre contre le pot de fer“, literally an earthenware pot against an iron pot, in other words, an unequal combat, where one side is stronger than the other.

But my recipe this week is for a pot au feu, the beef and vegetable stew described above.

Pot au feu, main ingredients

Pot au feu, main ingredients

Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 1kg500 stewing beef, try a mixture of cuts
  • A marrow bone per person
  • A piece of celery, a bay leaf and some thyme to make a bouquet garni
This is a bouquet garni

This is a bouquet garni

  • 9 large carrots
  • One large onion
  • 4 cloves
  • 8 small turnips
  • 8 leeks
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 4 parsnips (optional)
  • 4 swedes (optional)
  • 8 large potatoes
  • 3 star anise
  • salt, pepper, pickled gherkins

Preparation, Day 1:

  • In a very large saucepan, or a pressure cooker, in which case you will have to modify cooking times all by yourself, place the meat (but not the bones) in enough cold water to cover it all amply. Add the onion, into which you have inserted the cloves (spices, not garlic), the star anise, a small handful of coarse salt, the whole garlic cloves, the whole green top of one leek, and one carrot cut into small pieces.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for 4 hours.
  • Place in a cool place until the next day.

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Preparation, Day 2:

  • Skim any solidified fat off the top of the contents of the pan and remove the leek greens, the star anise and the bouquet garni.
  • Peel the carrots, cut them in halves or quarters lengthwise. Top and tail the turnips, leave the peel on.  Wash the leeks and remove the tougher parts of the green leaves, cut them into two pieces. No need to peel the potatoes, just scrub them clean and cut into two or four if they are too enormous. Peel and cut the parsnips and swedes into pieces if you are including them.
  • Place all the vegetables and the marrow bones into the pot (you see why you really need a very large one!). The marrow bones will add flavour and if you like beef marrow, will add an extra treat on your plate.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for half an hour.
  • Serve each person a helping of meat, vegetables and a marrow bone. Add only a little of the bouillon (soup), it is nice to mash the potatoes in it.
  • Place toasted bread, coarse salt and gherkins on the table to accompany.
  • The marrow should be extracted from the bone, spread on toast with a little salt on top.

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Day 3:

  • Strain off some of the liquid into another saucepan, add some very fine vermicelli or alphabet pasta, heat for 10 minutes and serve as soup with crusty bread.

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Day 4:

  • Boil some salad potatoes and season while hot with white wine, olive oil, salt and pepper. Add a chopped shallot, a chopped hard boiled egg,some chopped parsley and the rest of the pot au feu meat in 1cm cubes. This is a really excellent cold salad.

Day 5 :

  • Mix up whatever vegetables are left with the remaining bouillon with a soup mixer. I tend not to mix too much, to leave a rich coarse soup. It has become concentrated and is particularly flavoursome.

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So you see that with very little effort on days 1 and 2, you will have readymade dishes on days 3, 4 and 5 as well! Just be careful to keep your pot in the fridge if you have room, or in a very cool place (out of doors if Winter temperatures are near freezing).

Bon appétit!

Duck and crispy potatoes


Confit de canard, pommes paillasson

Confit de canard, pommes paillasson

One French Word: paillasson, a French recipe: Confit de canard, pommes paillasson (duck and crispy potatoes)

A thing one should absolutely always have in the storeroom is a tin, or several tins, of confit de canard. Legs and thighs of duck, preserved in their fat, have become much more common in recent years, and much less expensive. You can use them in a dish of cassoulet (haricot beans, duck and pork, shall I give you the recipe here some time soon?), fried into crispy morsels on top of a salad (recipe here), or just heated in the oven and accompanied by chips, sliced sautéed potatoes (pommes sarladaises = potatoes the way they eat them in Sarlat), or, as in my recipe, pommes paillasson, which is the French name for the better known Swiss rösti. This consists of grated potato fried in a thick pancake until it is crisp on the outside and melting on the inside.

This is the very classiest fast food to serve to guests who turn up unannounced forty-five minutes before supper time, and a morale boosting dish when you are feeling low. With a lovingly prepared green salad, and some ice-cream served with the alcoholic raisins I mentioned in last week’s post, you will have rustled up a meal fit for kings in half an hour or so.

The French language bit:

paillasson (masculine noun), un paillasson, le paillasson, les paillassons (a doormat, the doormat, the doormats)

from the word une paille = a straw, which also gives us une paillasse = a straw bed (une paillasse is also said of someone who is weak and gets walked over; and sometimes also, but not very usually, the draining board of a sink).

Une paille is also a drinking straw;  and a colour – jaune paille = straw coloured, literally straw yellow.

Etre sur la paille (literally to be on the straw) = to be broke, to have no money.

Un chapeau de paille = a straw hat

Une botte de paille = a bundle of straw, or a bale (but it would be the old, small bales, not the new enormous round ones)

Paillasson in my recipe refers to the texture and colour of the potato pancake, which is strawlike. Where it is evident that we are not talking about a dessert, potatoes (pommes de terre, literally apples of the earth) can be simply called pommes (which also means apples).

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for two people :

  • 2 preserved duck legs and thighs, (I buy mine individually frozen, but they are more usually found tinned), with most of the fat removed. Keep this fat for roasting potatoes, or frying vegetables for soup.
  • 4 medium sized potatoes, peeled and not too finely grated
  • Optional: onion, or garlic, and/or bits of bacon
  • Oil and a little butter for frying
  • Salt and pepper

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Preparation:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
  • Place the pieces of duck on a non-stick baking sheet, or on an oven tray covered in grease-proof paper (be careful of aluminium foil, they tend to stick; actually they tend to stick anyway!).
  • Place in the oven when it comes up to temperature, 20-25 minutes if tinned, even if cooked from frozen.
  • Peel and grate the potatoes. Place in a sieve, squeeze with your hands to remove a maximum of moisture. You can them pat gently between several layers of kitchen roll to remove still more moisture.
  • Add 1/4 level tsp salt per potato used, and several grinds of fresh black pepper. Mix thoroughly.
  • If you are going to add onion or garlic and/or bacon bits, fry these up and mix with the raw potato. I personally prefer my pomme paillasson “nature”, that is, without added trimmings.

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  • Heat a tbs of oil (I used olive) with a small knob of butter in a frying pan, when it sizzles, scrape the potato into the pan and flatten it out with a spatula (choose a size of pan which will allow you to flatten the potato to a thickness of about 1cm or just a little more, so that it reaches the sides of the pan). Press it down, work a fork around it so that it is perfectly formed. It should not be thin around the edges.
  • Turn the heat down to medium. The potato should brown nicely on the outside but soft in the middle. If you fry it too briskly, it will burn without properly cooking on the inside. When you are ready to turn the potato cake, after about 4-5 minutes, run a palette knife under the potato to loosen, place a plate over the frying pan and turn the plate and the frying pan simultaneously. On the plate, the fried side of the potato will be on top.

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  • Put another tbs oil and a little butter into the pan, heat well, and slip the potato from the plate back into the pan, without breaking it, press down, bring the sides in a little to make it regular. Turn the heat down slightly again, and fry until the underside is uniformly golden. About another 5 minutes. When it is ready, slip it onto a clean plate, sprinkle with salt and serve.
  • Take the duck out of the oven and serve onto warmed plates with a portion of potato cake.
  • Serve with a salad : I did an endive (chicory I think it is in English, you can see from the photo below what I mean) and orange salad. Orange goes well with duck. Just slice an endive, peel and slice an orange, pouring the juice over the salad, add some parsley or coriander and a little walnut oil, salt and pepper. It needs no vinegar because of the orange juice.

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Both the duck and the potato should be really crispy. Nothing worse than confit which has not been crisped up properly. And the potato should be melting in the middle. Doesn’t your mouth water just looking at the picture?

Bon appétit!

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.

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

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Bon appétit!

Rich chicken “basquaise”, the French recipe. One French Word: basquaise


One French Word: basquaise, a French recipe : poulet basquaise

Poulet basquaise

Basquaise is a feminine adjective, pronounced bass-kezz and means “from the Pays Basque”.

In fact, it should be “à la basquaise“: chicken in the manner in which it is cooked in the Pays Basque. Like “à la bordelaise” is a dish as it is cooked in and around Bordeaux.

The Pays Basque is situated in the south western corner of France (Biarritz, Bayonne, St Jean de Luz) but also the north western corner of Spain. The Basque people are a cultural and linguistic entity, who have for a long time demanded their autonomy, with some force, from both Spain and France. But I won’t go into politics, it is not the vocation of this blog, and I’m hardly qualified.

(A la) basquaise” denotes a dish cooked with green bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic and piment d’Espelette.  Green and red are traditional Basque colours. Basquaise does NOT include aubergine/eggplant or courgette/zucchini. That would be ratatouille,

 something quite different.

Espelette is a village in the Pays Basque where this particular hot pepper is grown. In the autumn, you can see strings of peppers drying on south facing house fronts, before being ground into coarse, fragrant powder for sale. It is the only pepper which has an “appellation d’origine contrôlée” (AOC),  which means that any pepper sold as “Espelette” must have been produced there, and only there.  It is extremely fashionable at the moment, and rightly so, it is quite delicious and adds a distinctive flavour to any dish.  It is easily found anywhere in France. Abroad I don’t know… if you can’t find it, use a pepper which is slightly hot, but very flavoursome. Not simple cayenne, something Mexican maybe?

When I was a very small child, I spent some time with my family on the outskirts of St Jean de Luz, a Basque fishing village, because my Father’s work had taken him there. I remember little, but have retained a love of Basque crockery and table linen, some of which has been handed down to me by my Mother, and which dates back to that time. It is the deep red and navy pattern you see so often in my photos. I have collected it over the years, and have far more than I really need! The only original pieces are four raviers (hors d’oeuvre dishes, often oval) and a table cloth and napkins. 

This dish was always a favourite with guests eating at my table d’hôte. It is not difficult to make, but requires fresh, high grade ingredients. Good quality chicken, ripe tomatoes and if possible “old variety” (I used tomates cornues,  horned tomatoes, large, long pointed ones).

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for 2 people with good appetites, or 4 with smaller appetites:

  • 2 chicken legs and thighs, separated at the joint, or 4 thigh pieces
  • One very large onion, roughly chopped
  • 500gr tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
  • One large green bell pepper, cored and sliced into rings (or two if you are fond of bell pepper)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed with a cleaver
  • 2tbs olive oil
  • 1 level tsp piment d’Espelette
  • salt, pepper
  • 1/4 bottle of dry white wine

Rice to accompany

Basque colours - red and green

Basque colours – red and green

Preparation:

  • Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan and fry the chicken pieces so that they are golden all over
  • Remove the chicken from the pan, and fry the onion, browning it slightly
  • Replace the chicken in the pan, together with the tomato, garlic, bell pepper, a tsp sea salt, a few grinds of black pepper and a tsp of piment d’Espelette. Do not stir.
  • Add the white wine, and as soon as it looks like boiling, turn down to a simmer.
  • After 10 minutes, put water on to boil for the rice, or start getting your rice cooker ready.
  • After 20 minutes, stir gently to mix the ingredients top to bottom to cook evenly. Put the rice on.
  • Cook for a further 20 minutes. Your rice should be ready. Make a bed of rice, and serve the chicken and the sauce on top of it.

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The white wine makes a far finer sauce than chicken stock, water, or chicken cubes. But you cannot really identify the fact that it is white wine. So if you wish to drink red with the dish, you can do so perfectly well. Or the remainder of the bottle which you opened to cook with.

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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!

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