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Feb 16, 2002

Something Fishy

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Every time I buy seafood around here I seem to find myself in a fine kettle of fish. They are staring you right in the eye, knowing you have no idea what they are called in French. Or even what to do with them. The first, and last, time I bought fish at a supermarket was over ten years ago when I started living in St. Barths. I bought some dorade. But it turned out to be some kind of metropolitan dorade that had been flown in on Air France, and not the local dorade (mahi-mahi) caught by the island fishermen.
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Since then, I've left the fish finding to my husband. He knows lots of local fisherman, seems to know what fish are in season, and what to do with them. So when my friend Frank got here from Los Angeles last week, he stopped at the little fish market in Lorient. After taking photographs of the colorful fish, he ran back to the house and suggested we get some catch-of-the-day for dinner. So back to the fish market we go, and when we got there I agreed that the display of red and blue fish was probably as mouth-watering as it was eye-catching, yet I hesitated, knowing that whatever I bought would turn out not to be good for dinner. And boy was I right.
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I called my brother-in-law first and invited him to join us, suggesting a barbecue, and asking if he might be nice enough to clean the fish (something he does very well!) Of course he asked what kind of fish I bought. And when I said "grand gueule" (a red grouper-like fish) and parrot fish (these are bright blue), he laughed (I knew he would) and quickly pointed out that they were not at all destined for the barbecue, but for court bouillon. Ok, I said, I'll make court bouillon. Ok, he said, but not for dinner, we only eat court bouillon for lunch, and never on Sunday. Who knew there were such strict rules concerning fish. But it turns out that the islanders used to eat it every day for lunch, with soup for dinner, and something different on Sunday to break the routine, Perhaps a chicken or a local goat. So we agreed that on Saturday we'd have the court bouillon for lunch (and in the meantime ran out to a truck near the airport and bought some mahi-mahi for the bbq that night).
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As Saturday rolled around I was told that court bouillon is eaten here with something called "fangui," that has nothing to do with mushrooms, but is a boiled corn meal "cake" not too different from polenta. Did I know how to make that? Of course not. So Saturday morning I was on my mother-in-law's doorstep, a bag of corn meal in hand. She bailed me out, and sent me on my way with a piping hot plate of "fangui." By then the fish had been cleaned and seasoned. I cut up red and yellow peppers, tomatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, and garlic, and the court bouillon was on its way. Turned out pretty good, if I say so myself.
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So the next time you are in the neighborhood, and see those pretty fish on sale in Lorient, don't hesitate. Go right ahead and snap up some red ones and some blue ones. I'll be happy to share my mother-in-law's recipes for court bouillon and "fangui." I'm sure she won't mind.

More to come,

 

Ellen Lampert-Greaux


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