Appreciating Normandy, and authentic sea bass on a grill

We have just spent a week in the countryside in Normandy (the southern part, near Caen), cooking, eating lots of good yogurt, strong
cheese, gorgeous cream and sweet apples, seeing lots of farm animals, and
enjoying the life of a small provincial town with our friends. I have felt a
bit guilty not posting more often here this week, but my only excuse – with a flat apology – is that we were
just too busy living and enjoying, I couldn’t keep up! I will be sharing
several recipes and images from our stay in the coming weeks, including a kids’
recipe for a trifle made with a delicious spice cookie French kids adore, among a
couple of others.

But for now, let’s talk about fish.

On a Friday morning, we pull up to the small harbor of Courceulles-Sur-Mer full of small
fishing boats. Right there on the dock, a few stands with fish from the morning
catch. One fishmonger shows fresh mackerels to an old couple looking for what
to make for lunch, another empties and scales a sea bass. Gurnards, weevers,
mussels, turbots, John Dory… Pablo observes, pba-pba-bpa: poisson in Pablo language.
One of the fishmongers lets him touch a crab, he’s brave enough to do it for a
split second. An old fisherman that looks so much the part that I am too
intimidated to take his picture, gives advice to a young salesgirl about
treating a weever bite. This guy is the
old man and the sea. Pablo waves at him, he stares down at the kid, gruff. I
love it.

There’s nothing like buying fish from the fisherman who
caught it just a few hours before. I really miss that in LA, as it’s nearly
impossible there. Being on the coast of Normandy,
I was reminded how much French families eat local and eat seasonal. The fishing
industry seems pretty heavily regulated in France. For example, scallops and
some varieties of shrimp may only be fished commercially during a given period
(I sadly missed the scallop season…)

Another thing you cannot do in France, is sell a fish and say it’s
another. In the States, the famous and very expensive Chilean sea bass is in
fact an impostor. It is neither from Chili nor a bass. It is actually a
Patagonian toothfish, marketed as Chilean Sea bass (because, I assume, it is a
sexier, more exotic name??) I have never understood the craze for the
toothfish (I shall call it here by its proper name), I find it bland and
overpriced. So my next mission will be to find REAL sea bass in LA, as the one
we tasted in Normandy
was simply delightful. A very delicate white flesh, perfect for children too
with a tangy marinade.

Here, the fishmonger even goes as far as to
tell you how the sea bass was fished.
For a few Euros more per kilo, you get the sea bass that’s wild caught on a
fishing line – the bar de ligne (vs. bass caught with a trawl net) – yes, I learned a bit about
fishing on this trip J ! But I have to say I really enjoyed knowing exactly
where the fish I feed my son (and myself), comes from and how it was caught. And I think a
lot of French families demand this type of information from their food providers.

I’m also warming up to the idea of cooking a whole fish. I
haven’t done a lot of that, buying mostly fillets. It is a little more work,
filleting the fish and insuring there are no bones (nothing will make a child
hate fish more than fish bones, so the stakes are high!), but it is so fresh, delicious and healthy
(and fun too), it’s worth it. I figured it has a few advantages over the
fillets: it is more economical, you get a chance to see the actual fish you’re
eating and you can gauge its freshness by the eyes and the color. It is also
most likely fresher and will have more nutrients (and taste better). In truth, this
recipe wasn’t much more difficult than putting together a quick marinade and
throwing steaks on a barbecue.

That night, our host Jean-Max
brings out his “Weber bible of barbecue”, and we laugh at the fact that we are
going to make sea bass “Moroccan style”, caught no more that 10 miles away, in Normandy, following a
very American recipe book.

His little Webber barbecue is set in their ever so
bucolic garden, with visiting cats and neighbor horses. It is a warm evening, a
real treat in rainy Normandy.

So we eat outside, talking about fish, and how good the
butter is, and what farm we’re going to visit on Sunday, and why the French
cheese Livarot is called “Le Colonel” (five red stripes around the cheese).
The children are very proud of their region, and they know about good food. May my child know cheeses and fish recipes as
these do. In the meantime, Pablo gobbles the fish up almost as gluttonously as
the fresh baguettes he has become quite fond of here.  

So here’s to bountiful Normandy. I grew up here. I left. And I came
back to truly experience it, and love it, for the first time.



3 thoughts on “Appreciating Normandy, and authentic sea bass on a grill

  1. HAHHH! I love this article about Normandy, Helene you are truly transmitting the LOVE and appreciation of food, good job, please continue.

  2. I love seeing a bustling fish market (as you probably can tell from my own blog post hah) and this oen looks fab. the colours esp, look stunning, n that warm glow of the sun which you've captured really well! it's so lovely being back where you were born isn't it. Enjoy every moment of it x

    1. I loved your photos of the Singapour fish market as well! I just love fish markets and could spend hours there… Going around the world from fish market to fish market, wouldn't that be fabulous? It's neat how we're both expats going home and revisiting our own cuisine, on both sides of the globe…

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