We get excited about discovering new places and new ingredients all the time. In fact so much so that this must be sounding a bit like a shit boring travel blog instead of a shit boring food blog. But you know what is also cool? Discovering ingredients that have always been at your fingertips but you were too stupid to realise how good they were. That has repeatedly been the case with seafood for us in paris. See, one of us is a reasonably enthusiastic – if untalented – recreational fisherman and is super interested in fish facts that put most people to sleep. Got your jimmys on? Well here it is.
Getting your head around the fish scene in france is a bit like doing really hard maths. Or one of those team-building logic puzzles they make you do at work so you can all solve a problem together and become really good friends when all it really makes you want to do is punch gayle from admin in the face because she always thinks she’s right and WHY THE HELL DOESN’T SHE EVER CLEAN OUT THE COMMUNAL MICROWAVE AFTER USING IT. There are stacks of familiar fish at the markets here, as well as many we’d never heard of. To make things extra confusing, though, some of them have the same name but are a totally different fish, some of them have different names but are the same fish, and some of them are not readily available or just don’t exist at all in australia. The much sought after mulloway, for example, is sold as maigre. Red rock cod or scorpion fish (uuuuuugly) is chapon de mer, daurade is bream (snapper falls into that category), merlan is whiting, merlu is hake, and flétin is halibut. We spent three days trying to figure whether flounder/flet is turbot, brill or plaice and we still don’t know the answer. Anyway, tangents.
One fish that keeps coming up on menus is chinchard. Elsewhere in the world it is called yellowtail or horse mackerel. It’s completely disregarded by australian fishermen and is, at best, considered something you use as bait. But here? Here it is served regularly – and with great pleasure – in restaurants. Apart from having an amazing taste and texture, it is prolific and therefore sustainable, as most low order (read: bottom of the food chain) fish tend to be. It’s an important lesson for cooking seafood in australia: rather than continuing to hammer the more popular apex predators like tuna or kingfish, we should be eating more sustainable species like mackerel, yellowtail, sardines and serving these oft-scoffed-at fish with creativity and pride.
Clamato is one place where this happens as a matter of course. We’ve mentioned it before and no doubt many of you who have visited or lived in paris know it too. Opened by renown chef Bertrand Grébaut in 2013, clamato is the second spinoff from the uber popular and successful septime restaurant in the 11ème. You know how we are obsessed with the whole farm-to-table thing in paris at the moment? Yeah, well the guys at clamato are doing that too. With fish.
Chef erika archambault from quebec has been at the helm since clamato opened and makes a point of maintaining direct relationships with her suppliers. More often than not, this means direct relationships with specific fishermen. She gets up early every day and starts asking about what’s good and what’s available, trusting their knowledge and advice and drawing heavily on the relationships they’ve built. Her philosophy is to support “the little guy – the fisherman, the farmer… [that way] you’re sure it will always taste better and your customer will be satisfied. Ultimately, that is all we are trying to do.” In archambault’s eyes, this way of doing things is a no-brainer: working respectfully and closely with local experts will yield everything a chef looks for in produce – freshness, quality, proximity and sustainability. As she says, “…they deliver and it’s constant.”
Just as the quality of seasonal produce determines the menus of our favourite places to eat, the seasonal availabilty of ocean and orchard harvests determines archambault’s menu day-to-day (side note: how are such incredible chefs so young these days? seriously it’s intimidating – stop it). Sure, there are some days where she’d like to use a certain type of fish or a particular vegetable all week, but she can’t because they simply didn’t catch any or the veggies she was after did not grow fast enough. “It’s ok,” she says, “you change up the menu with what you can get your hands on. I’m sure it will be good in the end. Keeps you on the ball all the time and obliges you stay more creative.” Love.
If there’s one thing clamato has taught us, it’s that there’s nothing quite like using all your fresh, sustainable, locally-caught, unusually-named fish in a kickarse ceviche, especially in summer. It’s one of those things you can put down as a sharing plate when you have friends over – everyone gets a few bites and everyone always wants more. This one is super fresh and zesty and works well as both the centrepiece of your dinner or a clean and subtle accompaniment to salads, fresh vegetables and bread.
Oh, and if you’re ever in paris, get a couple of good friends together and go visit clamato for the full seafood experience. Find the gorgeous margot (hey margot!) who takes care of the floor like nobody’s business – she has the most detailed knowledge of the menu and produce and all of her recommendations have been perfect every time.
Finely slice the eschallot into paper thin crescents and leave to macerate in the vinegar. Meanwhile, fillet and pin bone the fish and chop into bite sized cubes. Place in a bowl, season with a pinch of salt and pour over lemon juice.
Segment the grapefruit and lime by cutting away the peel and pith, leaving just the flesh. Then, with a sharp knife, separate and remove each segment by cutting as close as you can to the membrane towards the centre of the fruit. What you want to end up with is wedges of pure flesh – no pith, no peel. Chop the wedges into bite-sized pieces. Reserve some juice if you can.
Thinly slice the fennel and lemon balm. Drain the eschallots and add to the marinating fish, along with the grapefruit and lime. Toss gently. Arrange on a plate, top with fennel and lemon balm. Pour over any remaining citrus juices and drizzle the whole thing with extra virgin olive oil. Make sure you serve some bread with too to mop up all the juices.