Jol — small fish fry

When I was younger and not yet living in France, I discovered a small hotel on the Dordogne river (Hotel du Pont in  Groléjac) that served a wonderful fry of small fish. It was called “petit friture” which has the same double meaning as “small fry” in English as it means both fish and frying. There they used goujon, small river fish.

In the Paris area I sometimes bought éperlan, sprat, to fry. This came from the Atlantic.

Here in the Ariège, where most fish comes from the Mediterranean, they sell Jol, also called Joël or Athérine after its Latin name Atherina Boyeri. In English it is the large-scale sand smelt.

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Mackerel fillet with cedrat, lemon juice and rocket

Lately I have been trying to change the rhythm of meals during the day towards a more southern regime – a full lunch and a light dinner. When both my wife and I had full-time office jobs, we would take a quick lunch – sometimes prepared at home and kept in a plastic container – and enjoy a good dinner at the table with the television news in the background.

In the south of France, and in Italy and Spain, there is more attention for an important lunch while the evening can be light – in Spain down to some tapas.

That is not easy to combine with office hours – but then in some countries the midday break is longer than what Dutch or English office workers would be permitted to take or be inclined to use.

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Goatfish filets with lime

From September to the end of the year, French market fishmongers  offer a brightly coloured red/orange fish called “Rouget’ (the red one), which is in fact a name for various types of fish.

The larger ones are the red mullet that are fished in the ocean in big nets. There are also smaller sized fishes, “rouget barbet” (the red bearded one), the size of a goldfish, which are rockfish such as the surmullet.

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Pan-roasted burbot tails with smoked ham

Yes, burbot. Aka Mariah, freshwater ling, coney-fish.

It is a very old species with a kind of spine instead of bones, as well as a rather large mouth, and does not win beauty prizes.

On French market stalls you find it already skinned, gutted and beheaded in appetising white parts.

The burbot lives in fresh or brackish water, such as river estuaries, and it looks like the salt-water monkfish, than lives further out in sea from the river mouth. The tails of the monkfish are also sold in France as “lotte”, just for confusion.

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John Dory with lime

“I do not know that cocktail” was the reaction of a contact in New York after he heard of my plan to have a “cool John Dory with lime” after a late afternoon (for me) conversation. It is a fish. There are many competing explanations on why the fish is called that way in English – either from Golden Yellow (Jaune Dorée in French, but the fish available in France is not yellow) or after the name of an adventurer in a ballad, while Jules Verne says the names come from (Janitore) for doorkeeper.

The French call its Saint Pierre and another name in English is Saint Peter, because the saint – when he was still in his mortal coil – provided Jesus which such a fish. The black mark on the sides of the fish is, according to legend, the sign of Saint Peter’s thumb.

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Fried smelt

I love fried small fish. We often go to a restaurant on the Dordogne river that serves “friture de poisson” and they are great.

Just small river fish and garlic in hot oil.

Civelles is also very nice but I tend to avoid that dish as the small eels will never get big and eels risk to become extinct.
Small fish like smelt, éperlan, never gets bigger than 15 cm, but their catch is regulated too.

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Red Mullet fillets

On the French markets you can find two kinds of reddish fish that look similar apart from their size – the grondin or red gurnard and the rouget barbet or red mullet. The rouget is a small rock fish and is used in Mediterranean fish soups. With the rising sea temperatures it is also caught … Read more

Japanese-style fish soup with cockles and prawns

From time to time, I go to a Japanese shop in the area around the rue Sainte Anne in Paris, where there are many Japanese restaurants and travel agents. I stock up on some instant soups, seaweed, sesame, yuzu and dashi – a yellow soy paste.

On the outdoor market in our village, the fishmonger had cockles, live prawns and cheek of cod. I combined this into a very nice and healthy soup.  Freshly cooked prawns have a much better taste than pre-cooked prawns.

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Sole with clams and crushed potatoes

We often go to Dieppe and buy fresh fish there on the quay, walk around the market and have lunch in one of the many restaurants.

A favourite place often serves “crushed potatoes’ as a side dish – cooked potatoes crushed with a fork and some cream for smoothness.

Back home, I tried my version to accompany a dish of small sole with a clam sauce.

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