One morning, around two weeks ago, Oddur, Hudson and I woke up extra early (and believe me we always wake up early) and headed for the lovely village of Lamarque which lies near the banks of the Gironde estuary, south of Pauillac. We drove into the quiet town and headed for the church where we had a rendez-vous with a man known as the ‘forest whisperer’. We said quick bonjours and then he led us down a ‘road’ to his fishing cabanon where he planned for us to spend the first part of what was to be a schorchingly hot and beautiful day. We lowered the big round fishing net and then we waited … and hoped. Yves Lajoux spoke with great enthusiasm of Médoc, the estuary, the forests. They are his playground where he spends most of his free time surrounded by nature, hunting, observing, loving every minute and dedicating his life to the wilderness.
But our story doesn’t really begin here, how does one get an appointment with a man like that? In our case it was pure luck. Lucky to have been invited to a lovely dinner party hosted by the Cazes family (of château Lynch-Bages) at château Cordeillan-Bages some weeks before, lucky to have been seated next to a most gracious and gentle man who on top of being a delightful ‘voisin de table‘ is also one of the most highly rated oenologist in the world or as my host put it ‘Monsieur Eric Boissenot is responsible for 60% of the best wines in Médoc‘. Eric’s laboratory near his childhood home in Lamarque happens to be next to Monsieur Lajoux’s house and the more we talked about him the more intrigued I was to meet him. When you are in love with a place, like I am with Médoc, you want to meet the man who knows it better than anyone.
After a few minutes Hudson’s impatience was growing so he asked permission to see if we had caught anything. Indeed we had, a lovely mullet and only a few minutes into our morning. This was a good start but alas the only thing we caught all morning (aside from a few shrimps that we set free again). The real catch of the day, though, was meeting the man himself. He spoke with great enthusiasm about preserving nature and living in harmony with the creatures of the sea and forest. He took us on a trail of the surrounding area, showed us a few sights and even took us to the top of Lamarque’s St Seurin church with its panoramic dome so we could better see what he was talking about. Of course a lot of time was spent discussing food and cooking, like many hunters and fisherman in the region he has a few cooking tricks up his sleeve and I was eager to know them all. His favorite food it turns out is gambas flambéed in cognac. A second favorite is anything made from wild boar, he makes sausages at his house and once a year he and his hunting buddies have a feast near his cabanon on the 14th of july and this year we are invited. Think Asterix and Obelix.
Yves invited us to his house for lunch (surprising his wife I might add, who had prepared a lunch for just the two of them), he said it would be simple, it was anything but. He opened some Sauternes, brought out the terrines he makes himself and delighted us with endless stories. My husband spent a good deal of time with Yves’s dogs who are taking it easy and recharging their batteries until hunting season begins again. He has beautiful griffons and recently had a litter. Luckily for me he had given away all but one which he’s training to be his next hunting champion. Repeatedly my husband asked to pick up the puppy (who was huge by the way) and I could see that dangerous look in his eye that I’ve seen too many times in the past. I don’t think that man has ever looked at a puppy without considering the possibility of owning it. Yves and I kept talking about his love for terrines and he gave me a recipe I used as a base to improvise on.
You would expect the prince of the forest to have a few skeletons in his closet and he did, a real one that he wanted to give to us. His wife is quietly removing all the hunting mementos from their walls and Yves was generous enough to give Hudson a hunting trophy, the head and antlers of a deer to hang on his wall. Hudson was thrilled, as for me, I guess I have to get used to it. Perhaps in the children’s playroom?
Back in my kitchen I was filled with emotions, feeling a little bit like an Amazon forest girl (one of my childhood dreams), coming home from the wilderness with a freshly caught fish for dinner. This is why I love life in Médoc so much, all this rawness, the untouched side of nature so rare these days. So I opened my notebook, scribbled a few recipe notes inspired from the day spent with Yves and there I was on a culinary adventure all over again. Yves told me to make a carpaccio out of the filets of the mullet, so I did. All you need is a great sharp fish knife, salt, pepper, olive oil, chives, lemon juice & rind. The lemon juice slightly cooks the fish, just like kitchen magic. The next day I bought fresh gambas and all the ingredients for the chicken liver terrines, Yves and I are kindred spirits when it comes to terrines (I always make at least 3, we are a big family and terrines go fast). I relived all those fantastic moments in the fishing cabanon, so grateful to have met the real man about Médoc. For that is what he is.
Mullet fish carpaccio (serves 4)
4 extremely fresh mullet fish fillets (you can use halibut, turbot, sea-bream or swordfish)
Lemon rind of 1 lemon, sliced into tiny slivers
A handful of chives
Sea salt & black pepper
On a serving plate, sprinkle sea-salt and black pepper. Drizzle a bit of olive oil and squeeze a quarter of a fresh lemon.
With a very sharp knife, slice the raw fish filets as thinly as you can across the grain. Place the slices on the plate. Sprinkle with finely chopped chives, lemon rind (sliced into tiny sticks) and squeeze a bit more lemon juice. Add more salt if desired. Serve immediately.
Chicken liver terrine (makes about 3 terrine pans)
5-6 chicken livers
1 kg/ 2 & ¼ pounds pork throat (gorge de cochon in French, which is commonly used for terrines & pâtés), alternately you can use fatty pork shoulder meat)
2 tsp sea-salt
1 tsp ground pink peppercorn
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
A small bunch of fresh thyme
2 shallots, sliced finely
120 ml/ ½ cup Armagnac
60 ml/ ¼ cup port
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
20 bay leaves
You will need a meat grinder with a medium hole plate or you can ask your butcher to mince the chicken livers and pork meat for you.
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl (except the bay leaves), mix well. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Scoop mixture into terrine or loaf pans (round or rectangular), leaving half an inch to the top. Decorate with bay leaves and cover with aluminium foil.
Preheat oven to 200°C/ 390 F
Place terrines in a large roasting pan and prepare a ‘bain-marie’ (pour boiling hot water in the roasting pan so it comes up nearly half-way to the terrine pans). Cook in oven for 45 minutes on 200°C/390 F, then lower heat to 180°C/ 350 F for a further 45 (to 1 hour depending on oven strength). Remove aluminium covers 25 minutes before the end.
Leave to set until cooled and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours. Enjoy!
Gambas ‘flambéed’ with cognac (as a starter, 5 gambas per person)
20 gambas, uncooked
80 ml/ 1/3 cup cognac
1 garlic clove, sliced finely
1 shallot, sliced finely
½ tsp ground nutmeg
A pinch of piment d’espellette
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
A handful of chopped parsley
Sea salt & black pepper
Place fresh gambas in a dish and drizzle with olive oil, sea-salt, black pepper, nutmeg, a pinch of piment d’espellette and 1 tbsp lemon juice. Cover and leave to marinate 3 hours or overnight.
Just before cooking the gambas, warm the cognac so it’s slightly heated. Set aside.
In a large frying pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil and sauté gambas, shallots and garlic for a few minutes, until golden. Off the heat, pour cognac on gambas and light a match. Take a step back and be careful not to burn yourself! Let the gambas flambé for a couple of minutes or until it stops, tossing the pan from time to time. Return to heat and reduce for a minute. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediately.