Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mulet gris et Salicornes

 Going up to our vast outdoor market at Place Liberation in Nice is always a treasure hunt.  Among the more than 100 stands are several fish stalls, one of them specializing only in shellfish and related seafood delicacies.  With our  houseguests, Phoebe and David back from Italy, we went to Place Liberation early in the morning, searching for the best and the freshest to bring back for a Sunday of culinary feasting.

For lunch we chose a huge quantity of smallish mussels known as bouchots mussels named after their growing technique :bouchots ropes, on which the mussels grow tied in a spiral on the pilings and planted at sea .   Mesh netting prevents the mussels from escaping or falling away. This method needs an extended tidal zone and I have only seen it being used on the Ile de Re but is probably used extensively along the Atlantic coast.

                                                                                        photo eat like a

We decided to have mussels for our lunch, thoroughly cleaned and then steamed in a glass of wine.  With some butter, garlic., olive oil and parsley, the liquid from the mussels made a fine broth for mopping with a crusty baguette ......or in my case, eating with a spoon.    Monsieur had had a pot of borlotti beans bubbling on the stove for a few days and he added, baby tomatoes, sage, basil, oil, garlic, vinegar  to make a rich soup which we served as a second course.    We enjoyed a bottle of Meursault  Blagny with lunch.  And for dessert..... green figs so ripe that the "honey" ran from their burst skins.  

But wait , I am not finished.  After a siesta, reading, knitting, and hours of a chat fest, we were at it again....with a "dead" fresh , giant gray mullet that Pheobe had spotted at the second fish stand.  He was a "beaut" and even more "intéressant" as he cost only ten euros, cleaned and ready.    An equivalent sized "loup" sea bass would have been about thirty five euros!!

Here "he" is roasted with parsley and lemon tucked into his cavity and bathed in olive oil.   The fish took about 15 minutes at number 6 oven temperature ( 350F ) in an oven preheated for 15 minutes or so.  A mullet is a robust "hunter" fish and his flesh clings at the spine.  It is really an impressive backbone that can't be easily sliced to remove the head.  When most of the fish is done there is usually a stubborn bit near the spine that is not quite done.  But the rest of the flesh is flaky and tender.   Mullet is an easy fish to deal with.  ...few bones other than a few large ones that are easy to spot.

Here is our grey mullet before it was baked on a bed of foil on a  "cookie" sheet.    To go with our fish we decided on simple boiled potatoes garnished with olive oil, salt and pepper and a big helping each of Salicornes . We don't see "salicornes" very often as they grow around marshes and not in the Mediterranean.  Again, I first tasted them in the Ile de Re off the Atlantic coast of France.

Salicornia europaea is a kind of succulent algae, highly edible, either cooked or tossed with vinaigrette as a salad.   In England it is one of several plants known as samphire ; the term believed to be a corruption of the French name, herbe de Saint-Pierre,  "St. Peter's Herb."

Samphire is often cooked, either steamed, sautéed or microwaved and coated in butter or olive oil as we did.   Due to its high salt content, no salt is added and it must be washed thoroughly first to remove any sand that may be clinging.

 After cooking, the Salicorne is the bright green color of seaweed, and the flavor and texture are a bit like young spinach stems or asparagus.  Samphire is often used to accompany fish or seafood dishes.

  It was wonderful with the gray mullet that came out perfectly roasted after about 15 minutes in the #6 oven.   We served the fish only with slices of lemon, no sauce necessary.

 So engrossed were we, that we hardly spoke as we took the first bites of our dinner.   It was one of the best meals of the year and that is going some.

   We should all indulge in the abundance of the sea that we can find in our areas. Certainly those of us in Nice have no excuses not to.    In the future it may not be so affordable or caught wild as this fish was.  The freshness makes such a difference that you can convert any non fish-eater to a new way of life.

For dessert, a taste of both apple and "tartes citron" from the patisserie called Delices d'Or on Avenue de Gambetta. 

 On the pastry box it says "Le gourmandises n'est pas un vilain défaut." "Greediness in not an unpleasant defect" 


  1. Wish I were there to enjoy it with you.

    Andrea Scott