Monday, May 14, 2007
Seaweed butter for fish
Students in my cooking classes are often surprised to hear me say that it's hard to find fresh local fish in Nice. Surrounded as we are by the azure waters of the Mediterranean, you would think that fish would be plentiful. Sadly, though, few of the colorful fishing boats moored in the Nice harbor are actually used and I know of only one fisherman who sells his own catch, at the far end of the Promenade des Anglais near the airport. There is also good fish to be had at the Marché de la Libération along boulevard Joseph Garnier, but until the tram is running down avenue Jean Médecin - later this year, with luck - it seems too much effort to weave through the construction work. For the moment I'm relying on Poissonnerie Deloye near the Galeries Lafayette department store and Poissonnerie Tony near the port, both of which sell the small local catch at astronomic prices.
All this to say that the sight of gleaming fresh fish on the Ile de Ré filled me with excitement. On the first two days I bought fish at the covered market in the center of Saint-Martin de Ré, but happy as I was with the quality I couldn't help wondering if there might be other, more secret, sources of fresh fish on the island. Then, as we were riding our bikes into La Flotte, I spotted a garage with a sign outside advertising fish straight from the boat. Later that day, the salesman at the organic supermarket confirmed that this is one place where locals go for fresh fish (the other is a fish shop in the town of La Noue). "There is always a long line-up," he warned us.
We didn't get off to a very early start the next day and showed up outside the garage at 10.30am, a late hour for the serious fish buyer. Fortuitously, though, the doors had just opened and we were fourth in line. As we waited many more people joined us, all of them apparently regulars. Open only from 10.30am-12.30pm from Tuesday-Saturday, this is a no-nonsense place where they won't gut or scale the fish for you, but the prices are relatively reasonable. Sam, an instinctive gourmet, was drawn to the turbot but I settled on the dorade royale, royal sea bream, and some squid for dipping in seasoned flour and frying as an appetizer.
I would have liked to cook the sea bream on the bone but there was no way that three generously sized royal sea breams were going to fit into the kitchen's toaster oven. Instead, I filleted the fish and fried them on the skin side in two pans. The fisherman's wife had told me to leave the scales on and remove the skin after cooking, instructions that I happily obeyed since I never enjoy finding fish scales in my hair. My precious seaweed and peppercorn salt was too coarse to sprinkle onto the fish, so I mixed it into butter with some fresh flat-leaf parsley and served it on top. If you're wondering where to buy seaweed salt, by the way, I have seen it sold by salt specialists at several open-air markets in Paris including the Marché Saxe-Breteuil.
Fish fillets with seaweed and peppercorn butter
6 fish fillets with their skin, washed and dried
Fine sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tsp seaweed and peppercorn salt
2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Season the fish lightly with fine sea salt. Heat the olive oil in two frying pans over medium-high heat. Cook the fillets on the skin side until the flesh is nearly white on the top, then flip them over and finish cooking for no more than 1 min.
To make the seaweed butter, combine all the ingredients in a small bowl with a fork, crushing the salt.
Place the fillets, flesh-side up, on six plates and top each one with a spoonful of the seaweed butter.
This butter can also be used on steamed new potatoes.