We have started regional cooking classes now – and today we focused on northwest France. The long coastline here and large fishing industry means that seafood plays an important role in cuisine in this region. Boulogne, one of the leading fishing ports in all of Europe, lies on the coast here. The most popular fish sold at the port are sole, herring, mackerel, cod, whiting, and ocean perch.
This area is a temperate zone, experiencing mild weather due to the warm gulf stream. Fruit trees flourish. Apples are their most famous crop and are used to make hard cider, desserts, pastries, and a brandy called Calvados.
The large fields of grass that grow here make cattle herding ideal. Therefore dairy products such as milk, cream, butter, and cheese are choice ingredients. In fact, the term a la normade on a menu item indicates that the food is prepared with a cream sauce and usually has apples or cider in it as well.
One dish we prepared today blew me away. Cotriade, or a home-style fish soup from Brittany, is a simple soup that fisherman’s wives used to make. We started with a base of fish stock, fresh herbs, onions cooked in small amount of salt pork and potatoes. Once the vegetables in the soup softened and cooked through, we added large pieces of fish. It used to be made with whatever fish the fisherman had leftover from the market that day. The fish was poached on low heat until just cooked through and no more (a few minutes). The soup was served in a large bowl, over a croute, with generous ladles of broth.
It was exquisite. The fish was perfectly cooked, flaky and not overdone (this is very important when making this dish). The broth was savory but light, and tasty enough for bowl slurping. The croute on the bottom of the bowl soaked in broth was a wonderful surprise. A gold star recipe.
The Good: Fish provide heart healthy fats called omega 3 fatty acids. Fish are also good sources of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, niacin, selenium, and zinc. Potatoes are great sources of potassium and vitamin C. This soup can be made low-fat easily and most of the flavor comes from the fish, vegetables, and herbs – not salt. Soups are also great fillers due to their high water content. This means you can feel full on fewer calories.
The Bad: The recipe we used contained salt pork as the cooking fat which contributed a considerable amount of fat and saturated fat. It added salt also, which was fine since our stock was not seasoned – but if you use store bought stock with salt, that would be a problem.
Recommendations: The soup was incredible and can be made lower in fat (with a few tweaks). The fact that these flavors work for almost any white fish or shellfish is a bonus. We used red snapper, which has a very mild taste. Important steps in making this soup are seasoning, preparation and cooking of the fish, and presentation.