Friday, 17 August 2012

Keeping it local, seasonal and simple

In Collioure, there must be another little business stuck away in a corner somewhere. It’s just that I haven’t found it: yet. But I will.

At the twice-weekly market, there is always at least one fish stall – sometimes two.

But while they’ll happily sell you fish, they don’t prepare it for you.

They don’t even have the means with them to do that: no knives, no chopping boards; no pin-boning pliars, no scaler – not even a bowl of water to rinse it in.

In Britain, many of us who are lucky enough to have an actual fishmonger rely on them to do these things, but not here.

So there must be someone, somewhere, operating a little business where they do those things for you.

Unless …

There you go: it seems that the all-year-round customers don’t need such tasks performed for them: they have the equipment necessary in their own kitchens – together with the skills.

Chatting with Vikki on Broadway Market the other week, while buying myself a little squid to cook when The Other Half went to Yorkshire for the Rugby League, she revealed that a number of people actively tell her not to clean squid when they’re buying.

It seems that it’s not just me who enjoys doing it myself – certainly it always gives me the warm glow that comes from knowing that I can do something that is apparently technical enough that it was included as a specific test in last year’s Masterchef: The Professionals.

And it’s no coincidence that, Fin & Founder, our rather trendy fishmonger at the top of the street, has made preparing your fish for you the ‘value added’ component that helps to justify its generally quite high prices.

The moral of the story is that, in some parts of France at least, people have the skills to prepare fish. In the UK, we have, in general, lost them.

On Wednesday morning, up and out so early that many stalls were just setting up in the morning sunshine, I bought a dorade.

So fresh that it wasn’t just bright-eyed, it was floppy-tailed too, dorade is known as gilthead bream in the UK.

It was a little make do and mend when it came to the prep. There is no proper fish knife in the house and you do need a flexible blade.

I sharpened the most appropriate one I could find and did the best I could to fillet the fish, improvising with a potato peeler to remove the scales.

The cooking was ridiculously simple – and benefited from this year’s increased confidence with a grill, even, as here, one that I am not used to.

The grill was heated to around 160˚C. Once hot, the fillets were placed, skin side up, on an olive oiled tray and popped about 10cm beneath the heat source.

At about five minutes, the skin wasn’t ready, so the heat was turned up to the maximum and they had two minutes more, until the skin was starting to crackle and just brown in places.

Then it was served with a segment of lemon.

The fish was succulent and tasty.

On the side, a salad of thinly-sliced raw courgette, tossed gently in a 50/50 dressing of lemon juice and honey, and left to marinade in that for at least half an hour.

It was garnished with some tiny leaves of a local basil relative.

And with glorious lucques olives, good bread, a little oil and Balsamico dip, and chilled rosé on the table, you have a meal fit for anyone.

Not that it’s difficult, as you’ll gather. And a couple of days later, there was a grilling repeat in order.

We’ve stopped going to St Elme for lunch and have started getting something light from Cyril’s café at the back of the sun loungers.

The first day, that was a galette for me – a sort of buckwheat savory pancake filled, in this case, with three cheeses.

Great beach food.

Today, it was a salad with cheeses and croutons. Again, simple and, quite frankly, all you really need in the afternoon.

Although that does mean a larger meal is required in the evening.

There’s a little alimentation on the road behind the beach, just a couple of minutes from the house and a few doors along from the boulangerie.

It might only be a small general store, but it’s good, even having a real (little) deli/butcher/fish counter, with fresh as well as pre-packed produce.

There, I found four small côtes agneau – or lamb chops, in English.

They also have a nice little selection of local wines and a very good selection of fresh fruit and veg. So the meat was joined in my basket by a bottle of rosé, a couple of lemons and some haricots vert.

The shopping was completed by a loaf of bread, freshly baked this afternoon.

It was the simplest of matters to grill the meat, which took around 12 minutes.

In the meantime, the beans were boiled for eight minutes (I now have this timing in my head) and then drained and plunged beneath cold water, before being dressed with a little virgin oil.

A squeeze of lemon for the lamb, decent salt and pepper, and oil and Balsamico to dip the bread – nothing more was required.

And fruit available afterwards.

How on earth did we reach a point of so many people apparently believing that such dining was rocket science?

And as if there were any need for any other confirmation of how good this is, then it’s worth noting how low the carbon footprint would have been – if you’re worried about such matters.

The wine was local, as was the olive oil, the meat, the beans, the bread and the fruit after. The salt was from the south west of France if not the region, leaving the Balsamico, the lemons and the pepper.

So, seasonal, regional and simple – and all very good indeed. Really, what more could you want?

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