Saturday, 14 March 2015

Soupe de Poissons and other fishy dishes

It would be odd to end my time here in Cassis without at least one blog given over to fish recipes- as the fish restaurants on the quayside are one of the main reasons tourists come here in their hundreds. On a Saturday or Sunday, even in winter, you cannot get a table at any of the hotspots along the Quai des Baux- with everyone tucking into bowls of fish soup, plates of oursins and fish served up in any number of ways.
Fresh oursins
Quayside in Cassis

However, a meal in one of these enticing places will set you back a fair few euros- so here are some recipes to make at home at a fraction of the price. Open a nice bottle of Cassis white wine, find a bit of spring sunshine if you can, and you can share the experience along with me!

I'm starting with a fish soup, taking you through some simple fried fish dishes, a poached salmon idea, and then looking at some ways to make a little go a long way with the aid of pasta and pastry.

Soupe de poissons is a Provencal classic- little rock fish boiled up to make a stock with tomatoes, garlic and saffron and then pureed and sieved to make a rich soup, served with toasts, rouille and grated cheese. Every baker has big bags of toasts for sale- but of course, they are simple to make yourself with stale bread, sliced thinly, spread out on a baking tray and cooked on a low heat in the oven until brown and crispy.


2 onions
2 fat cloves of garlic
1 leek
2 carrots
500g of fish- here the fishmongers sell poissons de rocher especially for fish soup but you can improvise with a mixture of pollock, fish pie mix, fish trimmings or whatever you can pick up at the fishmongers going cheap.
6 shell on prawns
1 glass of white wine
1 tbsp pastis-optional
1 pinch of saffron
salt and pepper
2 -3 tbsp tomato puree or a small tetrapak of passata
1 litre of water.

1. Soften the onion, leek and garlic in a little olive oil,  then add the chopped carrots
2. Add the prawns (legs, head and all) and scrunch around a bit with the veg.
3. Add the fish, white wine and seasoning and bring to the boil
4. Reduce the heat, add the tomato puree, pastis, water and saffron and simmer for 20 minutes
5. Then blitz the soup with a hand blender, pour the gloopy mixture through a sieve to take out any bones, scales, spiny bits etc
6. Keep warm

To serve- give your guests bowls of toasts, grated cheese and rouille ( garlic mayonnaise flavoured with paprika and tomato). They can either float their toasts in their bowl of soup, or place them in the bottom of the bowl and spoon their soup over them. (Everyone ate it so fast, I forgot to take a photo unitl it was nearly finished!)

Fish Soup with rouille, cheese and croutons

Sometimes the best way to serve fish is just to use the simplest and quickest method you can. Meuniere is just such a recipe. It literally means 'cooked the way the miller would'- white fish, coated in plain flour and seasoning and then fried in hot butter until golden and crispy.
That's all there is to it.

Skate wings cooked a la meuniere

Fish fillets- fried (whether in flour or not)- can be enhanced with simple sauces. Here I've got some red mullet fillets served with tapenade (green or black olive paste). You can buy tapenade everywhere here- it is known as the butter of Provence- and it is served routinely with toasts when you order an aperitif in a bar or cafe.
It is however very simple to make if you have a food processor:

Take 150g of  pitted green or black olives, 2 fat cloves of garlic and a glug of olive oil and pulse them all together until you have a smooth paste.

Fry your fish fillets quickly, presentation side down, turned once and served on a plate with lemon and tapenade.
Rougets with tapenade

An equally easy sauce to make is with roasted veg - it is good made with leftover Mediterranean veg as the flavour improves when it is cool.

Sea bass with roasted veg sauce
2 red peppers (deseeded and chopped into chunks)
2 large tomatoes (quartered)
1 onion (peeled and quartered)
1 fat clove of garlic (peeled)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
1. Mix the oil and vinegar in the bottom of a large roasting dish
2. Add the veg and plenty of salt and pepper
3. Toss with your hands until the veg is thoroughly coated
4. Roast at 170 degrees for about 30 minutes until the veg is tender and beginning to caramelize on the edges and tops
5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. (The flavour develops the longer you leave it, which is why it is good made with leftovers the next day)
6. Blitz in a food processor until smooth and pass through a sieve to remove any pips or tomato skin

Salmon- both fresh and frozen- is about the best value fish you can buy here. I bought four large paves for 7 euros.
Two of the fillets I poached in almond milk:

Bring a tetrapak of unsweetened almond milk up to a simmer and add a pinch of saffron, two tsp curry powder and lots of salt and pepper. Slide in your salmon pieces and poach for 10 minutes.
Thicken the sauce with a little creme fraiche and serve the fish with rice, sauce and a sprinkling of chopped chives.

Salmon poached in almond milk

The remaining two I used in pasta dishes- lasagne (layers of fresh lasagne pasta, salmon and cooked leeks mixed with a tub of creme fraiche and topped with a little grated gruyere):

Salmon and leek lasagne
and tagliatellis (100 g of fresh tagliatelle per person cooked in boiling salted waer for a couple of minutes, a bunch of chopped chives, some flaked salmon and a tub of creme fraiche and some of the leftover salmon poaching stock mixed into the warm pasta with plenty of salt and black pepper)- and had enough left over to flake into a leek and salmon tart. (A pastry case, 2 leeks, 4 eggs and some milk plus the salmon and seasoning).

Salmon and leek tart

Finally, I made a seafood pasta dish, using a mixture of fresh and frozen fish- pollock, prawns and mussels:
Embed the cleaned mussels in the pasta

Seafood pasta

Poach the white fish for 5 minutes in a little white wine. Cook the pasta noodles for 7 minutes until just becoming tender. Drain the pasta and mix it with the white fish, poaching liquor, a clove of pureed garlic, prawns and half a tetrapak of passata. Spread it out in a gratin dish, add some black olives and then embed 5-6 large cleaned mussels in the pasta.
Cook in a medium oven- 165 degrees- until the mussels have opened.

A bientot!