This is one of my all-time favorite pictures of any that I’ve ever taken. I call it Ave Maria, or the singing bass. The tags say bar de ligne or line-caught sea bass.
My second stage (stazh) or internship in France was cooking on a lobster boat in a military port town in Brittany which is the northwest corner of France that juts out into the Atlantic ocean. The boat was grounded at one end of a beautiful beach, Plage du Moulin Blanc, though I never saw any white windmills, with the marina or Port de la Plaisance on the other side.
Ma Petite Folie, a lobster boat on Plage du Moulin Blanc
I originally thought I’d be cooking at another restaurant, La Fleur de Sel, a more upscale, fine dining restaurant rather than this beast of a boat. I was initially very disappointed but within a few days I came to love that bateau aptly named Ma Petite Folie – my little madness – and cherished my time there. I learned all about fish and every day I scaled, gutted, filleted, skinned and cleaned fish. I was up to my elbows in fish guts and my hands soon looked like a litter of kittens had used them as scratching posts.
Stingray or skate, raie in French
I didn’t start out cutting up fish but rather vegetables. The first week I chopped and chopped and chopped carrots, fennel and leeks, over and over and over. I was dying to gets my hands on the fish but that took some proving to do. I was scrolling through some old emails I sent home when I was working on the lobster boat and came across this entry.
Yours truly cutting up fish! A far cry from my cube in the valley looking out on the Target parking lot.
Bonjour mes amis! A quick story I am dying to share with y’all about my day today. It’s just so cool and I want to shout it from the rooftops but that would no doubt arouse the gendarmes (local police) here so sending via email will have to suffice.
Carralet. Their bright orange spots are so vibrant and a dramatic contrast to their stark white bellies.
TODAY WAS A GREAT DAY! Jacques the sous-chef let me cut up fish today! I cut a few up for the first time the other day and as I was cutting (or more like butchering) the first fish, Jacques walked by and said “Mon dieu (my god)!” and not in a good way. So he patiently showed me how to do it and I had to ask him a few more times to show me. I got through it but it was painful for all of us, especially the fish! I figured any career opportunities at Fisherman’s Wharf were now out the window, or porthole as the case may be.
Dorade. We used this for carpaccio drizzled with a little lemon olive oil.
So this morning I was once again chopping carrots and Jacques was next to me filleting fish. I asked him if I could help him and he said “maybe tomorrow, we’re very busy”. I politely replied, “I can’t learn it if I never do it. I know I’m slow but I’ll never get fast if I never get the opportunity to practice.” And he replied, “You’re right, you’re right. Ok here!” and he dumped about twenty Dorade into the sink and said “Go ahead!” YEAH! I cut them up, packed them in ice and put them in the walk-in. It took me a while but I loved it! It was gross and slimy, as they weren’t gutted but I loved it! He scraped the scales off and I filleted them! A very cool day!!!
Lieu, or pollack in English
Tonight we arrived at 6pm and Jacques was in a cranky mood. He barked, “Laura, you cut up the fish tonight.” I jumped up, “Merci!” He said, “No merci (Don’t thank me!). I need twenety Lieu and four Barbue by 7pm” and he walked away scowling. I asked him where they were and he pointed to the walk-in. I asked him to show me what they look like and he rolled his eyes, stomped over to the walk-in, pulled out the fish, and threw them into the sink with disgust. I’m thinking, “Oh great (not really what I said), he’s already annoyed with me and there is no way I’m going to finish all these fish in less than an hour! Damn (not really what I said)!
John Dory, or St Pierre in French.
So I started cutting them one at a time, methodically, patiently, as quickly as possible, not daring to look at my watch. I cut the last fish, cleaned my station, and only then did I look at my watch. 6:55pm! Yann walked by and said, looking very surprised, “Excellent, Laura (ex-say-LONT lo-RAH)!” I WAS SO EXCITED! I DID IT! I couldn’t believe it! I cranked through all those fish! Granted, it wasn’t the best fillet job ever done but it was passable and I got the job done! I was so proud of myself! I asked Jacques if he didn’t think I could do it. He replied very seriously, “No, of course I thought you could do it.” I laughed, “Well that’s good because I didn’t think I could do it!” We had a good chuckle and the rest of the night I walked a few feet off the ground. When I left, Jacques winked, “Laura, tomorrow, you and me, we cut up fish.” YEAH! I proved myself! Finally! What a great feeling! I could finally exhale.
This is another fabulous recipe from my flatmate, John. This is perfect for a hot summer day when you are craving protein but can’t bare the thought of eating something hot. I usually make it early in the morning before it gets too hot out, then I can enjoy it for lunch or dinner that evening.
Saumon Froid au Basilic – Chilled Basil Salmon
4 pieces salmon, approx 125 to 150 grams each
4 tbsp butter
1-2 cups dry white wine, depending on size of pan
1 lemon, thinly sliced
4 tbsp dry basil or 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 cup heavy cream
1. Heat the oven to 400F/200C/6.
2. Butter the pan with 1-2 tbsp and coat with a layer of dried or fresh chopped basil
3. Lay out salmon on top of the basil
4. Add wine to 2/3 up the side of the salmon
5. Top with salt and pepper, basil, lemon slices
6. Poach for 10 minutes
7. Remove the salmon to another plate, cover with plastic wrap and chill
8. Save 1/4 cup of the liquid in a small sauce pan
9. Add a lot of basil (1 tbsp/person) and 1-2 tbsp butter
10. Reduce slowly on low heat, stirring occasionally.
11. Increase heat to high, add heavy cream and whisk.
12. Turn down and reduce for 15 minutes.
13. Pour into a bowl and chill.
14. When the salmon and sauce have both chilled completely, plate the salmon. Stir the butter sauce until it’s a creamy consistency and spoon a tablespoon over the salmon.