>Mussels – sustainable food / Les moules – la nourriture durable

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Each time we eat mussels – and that is quite often since the van from Bouzigues comes to the village twice a week – I become more convinced that mussels and oysters are a sustainable food for those of us who live near where they are farmed.

Chaque fois que nous mangeons les moules – et c’est assez souvent car le camion de coquillage de Bouzigues arrive au village deux fois par semaine – je deviens de plus en plus convaincue que les moules et les huitres sont de la nourriture durable pour ceux qui habitent près des etangs où elles sont cultivées.

The British website fishonline.org gives a lot of information about which fish to eat and which to avoid, not all of it applicable to the Mediterranean. The website is definite about mussels and oysters, though. So long as they are farmed or hand-gathered from the wild, they are OK. It states that:

Shellfish farming is an extensive, low-impact method of mariculture and high quality water standards are required for cultivation of shellfish for human consumption.

As I’ve pointed out before, the high quality of water needed is a benefit as the producers have a vested interest in keeping it unpolluted. So it seems it’s all good news as far as both food and the environment are concerned.

Le site web britannique fishonline.org donne des renseignements de quels poissons sont bien à manger. Si les coquillages sont cultivés ou ramassés à la main, ils sont durables. Et la necessité d’une très bonne qualité de l’eau est un avantage parce qu’il es dans l’interêt des producteurs de garder l’eau saine.

For us, living near the Bassin de Thau where mussels and oysters are farmed, shellfish seem to be the ideal food – fresh, tasty, environmentally friendly … and cheap: only 3 € a kilo.

Mussels with tomato and fennel sauce / Moules à la sauce tomate et fenouille

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We hadn’t thought of having mussels for supper last night, but when we heard the announcement that the coquillage van had arrived we made a spur-of-the-moment decision and Lo Jardinièr went to the place and bought a kilo. We had some fennel we’d bought in the market on Wednesday, so I made a tasty tomato sauce with it. The full recipe is on my mediterranean food blog.

La recette pour ce plat est sur mon blog cuisine mediterranéenne.

PS Michelle at From Seed to Table advises US readers to consult the Monterey Bay Acquarium site for information about which fish to eat:

http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx

>End of year round-up / Résumé de la fin d’année

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Our family holiday is over now and as always the best part of it has been enjoying being together, cooking, eating, drinking, talking, laughing.  This post is just a brief round-up of some highlights from this last week.

Les fêtes familiales sont finies et comme toujours nous nous sommes regalés ensemble, dans la cuisine, en mangeant, en buvant, en parlant et en riant.  Ici je vous donne un gout de quelques points forts de la semaine dernière.

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25 December sky / le ciel du 25 décembre

On Christmas day it was just about warm enough to walk to the garden at midday and have our traditional apéritif there, although this year rather than cold drinks we had mulled wine – a bottle of Domaine d’Estève red wine heated with a few tablespoons of brown sugar, some juniper berries, a cinnamon stick, some cloves and some orange pieces, including the peel. 

Olives

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We took some of our own olives out of the brine they’ve been soaking in for two months, rinsed them in plain water and coated them with olive oil.  They tasted very good, but a bit salty so we’ll soak the others in plain water for a bit longer to get rid of some of the salt.  It was exciting to eat our own olives next to our olive tree, as we did last year at the same time – but this time the olives are bigger and better and there are more of them.

Christmas meal / le repas de Noel

Everyone has different ideas about what makes the perfect Christmas meal.  We’re not very keen on turkey and Christmas pudding, so for many years we’ve eaten our own different choices which change from year to year.  Even when we lived in Wales we didn’t eat a traditional Welsh or British Christmas meal, and here we’ve adopted some of the local festive habits, such as eating oysters.  We started the meal with raw oysters, then had very small cups of oyster soup, foie gras with figs (bought in Pézenas market from the producer), and then gambas (large prawns) sautéed in olive oil with a dash of pastis added at the end of the cooking.

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oysters served with Picpoul de Pinet white wine
foie gras   figs_1_1 foie gras with figs, served with pepper- corns and sea salt
gambas_1 Gambas are large prawns which have a special spicy flavour.  We sauté them in olive oil and then add either Armagnac or pastis – this time it was pastis, the aniseed spirit which is considered the spirit of the Midi.

We had two main dishes – pigeons for meat-eaters and salt-baked sea bass for non-meat-eaters – both served with sautéed leeks from the garden and potato and celeriac mash.

Salt-baked sea bass

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Baking in salt preserves all the flavour.
We stuffed the sea bass with fennel and lemon slices, laid it on a bed of sea salt and covered it completely with more sea salt.  We put it in a hot oven for about 40 minutes (this depends on the size of fish) and then cracked the ‘shell’ of salt.

Stuffed pigeons with pancetta

pigeons_1_1 We stuffed pigeons with breadcrumbs, chopped dried apricots, parsley, garlic, sautéed onion, sage and white wine, put a slice of pancetta over each one and roasted them in a hot oven for about 50 minutes.

We finished the meal with some of the cherries preserved in Armagnac which I bottled last May.

Since then we’ve had some more good meals, including a simple, but delicious soup made with cabbage, chestnuts and white wine:

cabbage   chestnut soup_1_1

And, on the last evening before the family left, a bonite (small tuna-like fish) marinaded in a charmoula herb mix, stuffed with olives and preserved lemons and roasted on a bed of potatoes and tomatoes.  The recipe came from the Guardian weekend magazine but instead of sea bass we used the bonite which I’d bought from our market fish stall a couple of weeks ago and kept in the freezer.

bonite stuffed with olives   lemon_1_1 bonite   penedesses_1_1

We served this dish with an excellent bottle of red Coteaux de Languedoc from the Domaine de la Tour Penedesses in Gabian.

Sustainable?

I think that, like us, most people take a break from some of their principles at this time of the year.  We certainly wouldn’t claim that our gambas were very eco-friendly, but most of our other food was.  The fish we ate was all locally caught and the oysters were produced in the Bassin de Thau.  I like foie gras and don’t join in the chorus of disapproval which so often results from any mention of this food.  I don’t think it’s any more cruel than other poultry farming and it’s much more acceptable to me than the battery-reared chickens to which critics of foie gras seem to have little objection.  Anyway, it is very expensive so we can only eat it once a year.  We ate as much as we can from the garden at this time of year, although we did buy potatoes, celeriac, chestnuts and tomatoes.  We decided not to have a pine tree this year and instead decorated some arbutus and bay branches from the garrigue and from our garden – this looked pretty and best of all didn’t drop pine needles on the floor!  And, rather than flying, our family travelled to Gabian by train – Eurostar and TGV – a much more sustainable choice.

How do others reconcile treats with principles, I wonder?

>Winter festivities / les fêtes de la fin d’année

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We’re beginning to look forward to next week. For me the winter festivities mean the family getting together to cook, eat and drink, and avoid commercialism as much as possible.

On attend la semaine prochaine avec impatience. Pour moi les fêtes de la fin d’année sont l’occasion pour toute la famille de faire la cuisine, manger et boire ensemble, en évitant la commercialisation autant que c’est possible.

So, what will we cook and eat? Oysters, certainly. The van from Bouzigues will make a special visit to Gabian on 24 December and again on 31 December. People will be seen queuing to buy several boxes of oysters. These are a guilt-free pleasure. As I said in my recent post about mussels I think that shellfish from the Bassin de Thau is one of the most sustainable foods we can buy.

Donc, qu’est’ce que nous mangerons? Les huitres, bien sûr. Le producteur de coquillage de Bouzigues arrivera le 24 et le 31 décembre. Les habitants de Gabian se mettront à la queue pour acheter quelques boites d’huitres.

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I like oysters gratinées, so I shall probably put some under the grill with a little white wine and grated cheese for a couple of minutes. Others we’ll eat raw with lemon juice.

J’aime les huitres gratinées, donc j’en ferai griller quelques pour deux minutes, avec un peu de vin blanc et de fromage rapé. Les autres nous mangerons crues au jus de citron.

Oyster soup / La soupe aux huitres

Last year I made this soup using the recipe in Máirín Uí Chomáin’s Irish Oyster Cuisine. It’s especially good for those who are put off by the sight of a whole live oyster!

Chop 12-18 oysters. Bring 225 ml milk, 225 ml cream and 25 gm butter gently to the boil in a sauecpan. Add the chopped oysters, salt and pepper and heat through. Serve in warm bowls or cups, sprinkled with paprika.

Couper 12-18 huitres. Faire bouiller lentement 225 ml de lait, 225 ml crème et 25 gm beurre. Ajouter les huitres, du sel et du poivre et rechauffer. Servir avec un peu de piment doux.

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>More mussels and a precocious cauliflower / Encore de moules et un chou-fleur précoce

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I’ve been thinking about the mussels we ate last Thursday evening, bought from one of the two vans a week which bring shellfish to Gabian.  Mussels and oysters from the Bassin de Thau, a salt-water lagoon between Sète and Agde, seem to me to be one of the most sustainable foods available. 

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Mussel and oyster beds near Bouzigues
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Bassin de Thau

 

Je pense que les huitres et les moules du Bassin de Thau, une lagune entre Sète et Agde, sont très durable.

The shellfish are farmed and so do not deplete any of the sea’s natural stocks. The industry is a major employer in the area and is good for the environment because keeping the water clean and unpolluted is in the interests of the producers, who have to add an extra cleaning process to their production on the rare occasions when the water is found to be polluted.  As far as I can tell, the carbon footprint from the mussels lies mainly in the fuel used to bring them the 30 kilometres or so to Gabian.

J’écrirai plus sur la production de coquillages dans le Bassin de Thau bientôt, mais pour le moment je vous donne la recette du plat que j’ai fait jeudi soir:

I’ll write more about the shellfish production in the Bassin de Thau soon, but in the meantime here’s the recipe for the dish I made on Thursday:

Stuffed mussels with muscat / moules farcies au muscat

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Clean a kilo of mussels and cook in boiling water for a few minutes until the shells have opened.  Remove the half of each shell without a mussel and put the shell-halves with mussels in an oven-proof dish.  Cover the mussels with a mixture of 100 gm breadcrumbs, 3 finely chopped garlic cloves, a bunch of parsley and thyme chopped, salt and pepper.  Add a teaspoonful of muscat or other sweet wine to each shell and drizzle olive oil over them all.  Put under a hot grill for about 5-10 minutes until the breadcrumbs are crispy.  Serve with a slice of lemon. 

La recette sera sur le blog mediterranean-cuisine.

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This was the first time I’d made this dish and it was delicious – I’ll be making it again soon!

An early cauliflower

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We didn’t expect to have cauliflowers for another couple of months, but this small one suddenly appeared last week.  Yesterday it had begun to look slightly yellow and we thought it wouldn’t grow any bigger so we brought it home to cook.  As you can see in the picture, it was only about 10 cm across the head.

Lo Jardinièr quartered it and steamed it, then served it with cumin seeds and chopped garlic which had been very lightly sautéd in olive oil.  It was very good – but we hope the others will be bigger!

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>Sustainable fish

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Kates post ‘Fishing for facts’ on hillsandplainsseedsavers.blogspot.com got me thinking about sustainable fish. We almost always buy our fish from a stall in the market here in Gabian. It is all caught from the family boat which comes into Valras-plage, less than 40 km from here, and is brought here fresh, sometimes still alive. This seems to be a good way to buy fish. I do still have questions about sustainability though, and it seems hard to find answers to them. You can find lists of fish to eat and fish to avoid at www.fishonline.org but this site is centred on the UK and its advice applies to fish available in the UK. I havent been able to find a similar list for Mediterranean fish.

Apparently the Mediterranean represents 1 per cent of the worlds sea, but about 9 per cent of marine biodiversity. This makes it vulnerable to exploitation, but also a wonderful source of seafood.

Some facts are available – tuna should be line-caught only, stocks of hake are dropping dramatically. But sardines are sustainable, which is good news for me as its one of my favourite fish. We dont buy red mullet any more because they look too small to be sustainable.

Mussels and oysters from Bouzigues – again less than 40 km from here – are sustainable, so we can carry on eating those without guilty feelings.

Im uncertain about mackerel – they seem to be plentiful and quite big … and I like them. What about the cuttlefish I bought today? And I like squid too.

Ill keep trying to find out what is sustainable and what we shouldnt be eating.

Kates post seems to have set off quite a stream of arguments for and against food choices, especially vegetarianism. Like Kate, I dont want to be a vegetarian. I think everyone has to make their own choices about their diet and the environment. Most of the food I eat comes from within about 100 km of Gabian, in summer, spring and autumn most of the vegetables we eat are organic and grown in our garden, we eat free-range eggs and poultry, mostly local cheeses and fish from local boats. Of course I have my guilty pleasures – I like Italian ground coffee, which must add to the food miles or kilometres of my diet, and the occasional steak. Maybe Ill just have to accept that perfection is unattainable!

>New plants and oysters

>The plants in our spring kitchen window – a jumble of daffodils, cyclamen and pansies which have brightened the view for weeks – are coming to an end now, so in yesterdays cold north tramontane wind and bright sunshine we went to buy plants to put in pots by the front door. Were lucky to be near Mèze where Pépinière Filippi specialises in plants for a dry climate. Unlike some garden centres which tempt us with plants which need too much water and would grow better in a more northern climate, Filippi suggests that we fill our gardens with plants which thrive here. If you cant get to Mèze, their website www.jardin-sec.com gives a lot of very useful information if you understand French. Even if you dont, the plant names are in Latin and the pictures are excellent. We bought a Gazania rigens, a Lantana montevedensis and a Rosmarinus officinalis var. repens, all recommended for growing in containers. On the way back we stopped at De la Terre à la Terre in Montagnac – another good place for Mediterranean gardeners, although it concentrates more on trees, olives, citrus and palms. We bought this unlabelled shrub with pretty pink flowers:

Does anyone know what it is?


Oyster beds near Bouzigues

We made a detour to Bouzigues for lunch. Bouzigues is an oyster village – the whole place is devoted to producing and selling oysters, with a few other shell fish – clams, sea urchins and mussels. Theres a line of cafés and restaurants along the shore of the Bassin de Thau, a salt water lagoon separated from the sea by a thin strip of land. We went to our favourite, Chez la Tchèpe.

You sit at plastic tables in the sun, choose your oysters from crates on the counter and eat them with a glass of Picpoul while you look out at the beds where the oysters grew, only a couple of hundred metres away. Picpoul is the white wine made from grapes grown in this small area between Pézenas, Bouzigues and the sea, whose slight piquancy makes it the perfect accompaniment for sea food.

Choose your lunch . . .