14 July 2008

Seafood at the market in Montrichard

June 20, 2008, at the outdoor food market in Montrichard, just 10 miles south of Amboise and 10 miles west of Saint-Aignan, in the Loire Valley. A beautiful day when all the colors of the food products — vegetables, cheeses, fruits, and fish — were just beautiful.

Le rouget-barbet, a little red mullet, for 19.90€/kg

I lingered in front of the display of a poissonnier, a fishmonger. The people selling fish and shellfish didn't mind if I took pictures. There are two varieties of rouget-barbet that live in French coast waters from the English Channel down to the Mediterranean Sea.

Silvery sardines for 5.90€/kg

There's a good site in French explaining what all the different salt- and freshwater fish are, and showing pictures. Sardines, like rougets, live in the Atlantic from Iceland south to Morocco, and in the Mediterranean. A lot of them are fished in the waters of the Atlantic off western France and northern Spain.

Crépinettes de saumon, chopped-salmon
patties wrapped in caul fat, at 26.90€/kg

With increases in the price of diesel fuel, which powers both fishing boats and refrigerated trucks, fish is getting harder and harder to afford. Prices are sky-high. But French people must eat a lot of it, because the market stalls are abundantly stocked every day. Nowhere in France, actually, are you very far from the ocean.

Tourteaux, or stone crabs, at 7.90€ apiece

Not only is the fuel needed to catch and transport the fish and shellfish expensive, but the fish themselves are in shorter and shorter supply. Many fish (salmon, turbot) and shellfish (oysters, shrimp) are farmed nowadays.

Saumon en tranches, or salmon steaks, at 15.90€/kg

Shrimp are nearly always sold pre-cooked in France. You hardly ever find them raw except in the freezer cabinets at the supermarket. They are nearly always sold with the head on, too. It seems that shrimp are endangered in many places around the world because they are such a popular food. And to think that a century ago, in many places they weren't even considered to be edible.

Pink shrimp are 16.90€ a kilogram.

An American friend of ours is not a big fan of fish or seafood. In a restaurant in France, she decided she was going to try shrimp. But when the plate came to the table, she saw the little shrimps' eyes staring back at her. She hadn't counted on that. She couldn't eat them.

Colinot, or pollock, at 9.50€/kg

Colinot, or colin, is pollock. The name can also be spelled "pollack" and the fish in French is also known as lieu jaune. In England, is is sometimes called coley or coalfish. Fish names are very complicated to figure out. Pollock live in the Atlantic from North Carolina north to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It's a white fish, but is strong-flavored. There's an Alaskan variety that is milder. It's what you get in fast food restaurants, evidently, and is one of the main ingredients in surimi, which is imitation crabmeat.

In English, we sometimes call a poissonnier a "monger." I just looked up that word and it comes from the Greek. It's been used in English at least since the 12th century.


  1. I think "monger" is a generic term for someone who sells, so fishmonger, but also (an old term) "costermonger" (originally someone who sold costard apples from a market stall, but more recently any sort of street market trader, implicitly a bit of a "wide boy").

    To think that coley is now being touted as a substitute for the vanishing cod. I can remember when my mother took it into her head to buy "sixpenn'orth of coley for the cat) and boiled it. The smell drove us out of the house for the day.

  2. There are fishmongers, ironmongers, and warmongers in my vocabulary. All these terms sound old-fashioned to my American ear but they are useful terms.

    I read that pollock is actually replacing cod as stocks of the latter diminish. We never had pollock or cod when I was growing up in North Carolina. But maybe the secret to cooking pollock is white wine (as opposed to boiling it in water).

    We had spots (good), hogfish (good too), croakers, sheepshead, Spanish mackerel, and flounders, among other local species. The really poor people ate pinfish, so-called I think because the flesh contains thousands of little pin-like bones.

    I went to Boston once and got scrod. It was fun.

  3. My understanding is that coley and pollack are two different species, but both related quite closely to cod. In culinary terms they are what I call sub-cod - not so sweet, not so firm, inclined to dry out, but can be just as good if prepared thoughtfully, and certainly more affordable.
    My fishmonger in London says the French fish farms are way ahead of anyone else in terms of the quality of their product (using wild caught as the ideal, top quality).

  4. Salmon is in short supply in the US now. A great deal of the fish we have in our groceries comes from China and I assume it was pond raised.

    A Scottish friend of mine says that Scots prefer haddock and the Brits eat cod. I don't know for sure if it's true. I like both, but love a freshly caught flounder or file of sole (Julia Child's first french meal in Rouen.)

  5. We love fish, and it is proving very expensive here, and it is not in great supply...

    Make the most of my trips to France or Italy...eat mainly fish dishes when we go out.

  6. All of this fish talk has made me hungry for Julia Child's first meal in France (Evelyn, that tidbit is from her autobiography, isn't it? or from the one about her experiences in France? Did you love the books? I did!). I think I'll maybe make some fish this afternoon... around here in St. Louis the most often-offered fish is Tilapia, but, being from Massachusetts originally, my family has always been a fan of Scrod :)

  7. your fish look so fresh. they all look dead here (and we're not so far from the chesapeake, which once was the most fecund...estuary, i think...on the planet.
    that's when you can even get close to a whole fish. filets are where it's at here because americans are sissies. and what it means is that as a matter of course you sell fish that are like six days old. ugh.
    end of rant.

  8. My grandfather was a fisherman in Gaspé (Québec). He was blind and 82when he came to live with us in Montréal. I was 4. We were best friends. He would tell me of his 5-6 cold days at sea, returning home with his boat overflowing with fish. People would gently tease him about his "tall" stories. He would sit me on his knees and whisper, "Lots of fish in the sea. Just waiting for me. I know. I was there."

    As a little girl, I could hardly visualize so many fish. I didn't even like the smell when it was cooking, and the "arêtes". The dear man. I loved him so. I wonder what he would say about the fact that there are less and less fish in the sea.

    Wonderful post, Ken. Great memories. Thank you!

  9. Purejuice

    reason to never buy fish on a monday and never order fish on the menu in a restaurant over the weekend - don't know when the fish was bought or delivered to the restaurant

  10. "I went to Boston once and got scrod. It was fun."



  11. BettyAnn, that's a very old joke that I take no credit for. It's the kind you get to throw in once every decade or so. A groaner...

  12. C'est moi qui vous remercie, chère Claudia, pour vos commentaires si intéressants et si pertinents. J'aurais bien aimé connaître votre grand-père. Je suis sûr qu'il serait choqué de savoir que les poissons de nos mers diminuent en nombre à une telle vitesse. Le monde change de peau. Amicalement, Ken


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