France is different when it comes to April 1st. They don’t have April Fool’s Day in the sense they do in America or the UK. Indeed France being an eclectic sort of place they have something totally eclectic – ‘Poisson d’Avril’.
For those of you who are not French speakers Poisson d’Avril translates as ‘fish of April’. The object of the day is to stick a cut out of a fish onto somebody’s back without them knowing. You might think that’s rather bizarre, but that’s France for you.
As practical jokes go it’s pretty harmless, although less so than in the Middle Ages when they used to try to tie a real fish onto your back. On a warm day that could end up being rather smelly.
On Le Papillon we really look forward to April. It’s a time when fooling around with the boat has to stop. Boats are one of those things where there’s always something to tinker with but we’re happy she’s all ship-shape for the coming summer.
Not that you’d think summer’s coming as we write this – we’re still having to dodge the March showers. Not that our winemaking friends mind. They’re looking for the vines that they’ve pruned back over the winter to wake up and come into bud.
It always amazes us just how much they cut off. Then amazes us even more how much grows back so quickly. By the way if you ever get the chance to have a barbecue over vine prunings don’t miss out. It burns hot and quick but gives a subtle flavor.
The week’s recipe, again courtesy of Eleanor Garvin’s book, is all about fish too. Not only is it Poisson d’Avril, April 1st falls on a Friday.
Merlot et Moules au Buerre d’Escargot
Hake and mussels in a garlic and parsley broth.
There are actually no ‘Escargot’ (snails) in this recipe but the Beurre d’Escargot is the same garlic and parsley butter we serve snails with in Burgundy.
Use any white-fleshed fish for this dish. I prefer hake (Merlot in France) but you may not get that where you are. We use Normandy mussels but any will do. Small clams also work well.
Here’s what you need:
6 x 6 ounce pieces of un-skinned hake filet
2 pounds mussels
1 cup dry white wine
For the garlic parsley butter:
4 tablespoons softened butter
2 small shallots minced
1 clove garlic minced
Put the wine in a large soup pot with a lid, bring to the boil and add the mussels. Cover the pot so the mussels steam open. Take off the heat and remove the mussels with a slotted spoon. Pour the mussel juice into a Pyrex jug and allow any grit to settle out.
Cover the mussels and keep warm whilst you return the clear mussel juice to the heat and reduce by a third. Add the parsley and garlic butter and whisk it in or emulsify with a hand blender so the mixture is frothy.
In a large non-stick sauté pan heat the oil until fairly hot. Season the fish both sides with salt and pepper and place in the pan skin side down. Add the crushed garlic clove, cover the pan, reduce the heat and allow to cook for 5 minutes.
I like to serve this with peas and asparagus. Take 16 spears of asparagus, 2 cups of peas and 2 cups of peeled pearl onions and bring to the boil in 2 quarts of salted water. Cook for 5 minutes.
Take six large shallow warm bowls and put a piece of coked fish in skin side up. Divide the mussels and the vegetables among the bowls, ladle over the parsley juice and serve immediately.
You can buy Eli’s book The Papillon Recipes on Amazon.