Call of the sea
Sometimes on Sundays I get the call of the sea, especially when the sun shines through my bedroom window as I wake up in the morning. The ocean is only a few minutes away and it’s as if the rays of the sun bring la mer closer to my home. On beautiful days like that, I love going to the market in Soulac-sur-Mer, a timeless belle époque sea-side village in Médoc.
For me, there is no better way to start a day than with the energy of a bustling morning market. The fishmongers, discussing the ocean’s sightings, the farmers pride on their local produce, the oyster man who sells his catch and a charming, rather short man, who grows the tallest tulips I’ve ever seen, the variety I always associate with France.
I just enjoy walking through the crowds getting lost in my thoughts. I go with the flow, interested in each stall, hoping to find something extra-special, like freshly baked cakes, beautiful flowers or in my case, fried acras de morue (salted cod fritters), which I nibbled with delight while shopping for food. It’s impossible to resist a mid-morning snack at the market because everything is just so appetizing.
As I was discussing which flowers were in season with Marie-Annick (who to my delight had lovely peonies so early in the season), I caught a glimpse of the catch of the day at my favorite fish stall. Beautiful daurades (sea bream), perfectly laid and ready to be adorned with handfuls of herbs, onion, garlic and lemon. I love the pleasure of cooking an entire fish. I made sure to ask my fishmonger to empty, scale and clean the fish. So really, what I had to do was a mere job of decorating. So fresh, so interesting and most of all such a delight to prepare. Just like my garden cake, I did the same with the fish. Out in the garden, I picked what I needed to create a lovely herb garden fish!
For starters, I served lovely amandes de mer sautéed with garlic, olive oil and parsley with a dash of piment d’espelette. The poetic amandes de mer, in other words ‘sea almonds’, are called dog cockles in English. They have an almond-like flavor, and are cooked just like clams. While I was preparing lunch I couldn’t resist a few bulots, French marine snails that are so delightful dipped in a freshly whipped mayonnaise with a glass of crisp white wine.
Médoc has such variety, beautiful vineyards on one side, the majesty of the Atlantic ocean on the other. I feel so blessed to have the ocean near, I guess having grown up by a fragrant harbour means I need to be close to the sea.
Last monday when Sunday’s fish was but a memory and when the beautiful sunshine had made way for more dramatic skies we had a long walk on the beach. It was just the two of us and a few dogs. Watching them run on the beach reminded me of a passage from Hemingway’s ‘The old man and the sea‘.
‘He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy’.
I guess in Médoc even dogs can be lions.
Poêlée d’amandes de mer/ Dog cockles with garlic, parsley and piment d’espelette (serves 4)
1 kg/ 2-2.5 pounds amandes de mer/ dog cockles (or medium-sized clams variety)
A bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, sliced finely
3 tbsp olive oil
1 glass of dry white wine
Sea-salt and black pepper
A dash of piment d’espelette
Rinse cockles in water several times and drain.
Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic, stir for 1-2 minutes. Add cockles, stir 30 seconds. Add white wine, season with salt and pepper. Cover, stirring occasionally, for 5-8 minutes, or until cockles open. Add a handful of chopped parsley and sprinkle with piment d’espelette. Serve immediately.
Daurade with herbs (serves 2)
1 daurade/ sea bream fish, approx 800-900 g, scaled and gutted
1 small onion, finely diced
1 tbsp mustard of Dijon
2 spring onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
4 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Grated lemon zest from 1 lemon
8 sprigs of thyme
6 bay leaves
A handful of parsley
1 tbsp mustard
Sea-salt & black pepper
Preheat the oven to 210°C/ 410 F.
Place a large piece of aluminium foil onto a clean surface. Add an equal-sized layer of foil on top. Fold over the edges so they are secured together.
Place the fish onto the foil. Spoon one tablespoon of mustard and rub inside the fish cavity. Stuff the diced onion inside (keep 1 tbsp to scatter later on fish). Sprinkle fish with lemon zest, chopped parsley, thyme, diced onion, garlic, sliced spring onions and lemon juice. Drizzle olive oil all over fish, and add the bay leaves, inserting one in the fish cavity. Season with sea-salt and black pepper. Add another sheet of aluminium foil and carefully seal all edges of the foil to form an enclosed parcel. It should be tightly sealed so that the fish steams as it cooks without any steam escaping.
Place the fish in a roasting tray and transfer to the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, depending on oven strength. When cooked, remove from the oven and place onto a large serving plate. Carefully undo the foil.
Sprinkle chopped fresh parsley and squeeze fresh lemon juice. Serve immediately with steamed vegetables.