From the Rhône River delta to the Bay of Angels in Nice, the ports offer gourmet stops where fish, shellfish and other seafood await you. Southern French gastronomy could not be possible without these products from the sea, which liven up a diverse range of dishes.
It’s « fresh catch » that is called out in the Port of Marseilles in an accent from the Midi. The fishermen come and auction the fish from the coast. It’s a delight for the eyes to see all the silver fish scales reflecting the sun in the stalls of the dramatic, legendary market whose fame today has spread beyond the borders of France.
Here and across the entire coast, you can find a sample of what makes the Mediterranean so delicious. Ranked by importance, anchovies are at the top of the list. They may be the smallest, but they are also one of the most used ingredients in Provençal cuisine. Salty, they are a part of numerous dishes. The most well known is « anchoïade » – a cold sauce prepared with olive oil, salt and pepper, and mashed anchovies. It is served simply with both raw and cooked vegetables. Next is the small fried fish, or « mange-tout », followed by rockfish which are featured in the famous dish Bouillabaisse, including scorpion fish and the mighty sardine, eaten widely on the Mediterranean coast.
For the others, their names are always highlighted here: sea bream, monkfish, bass, mullet, red mullet, Saint-Pierre and red tuna are also auctioned in the small fishing ports. Simply grilled and served, they’re enjoyed in the shade during the height of summer. For long winter evenings, they are often cooked or stewed. Conger and European eels, squid, Cuttlefish, and octopus are also on this long list.
For something more posh, the Mediterranean also has its caviare, the delicious Botargo of Martigues, made out of dried and salted mullet roe.
A large range of seafood… falvours difficult to resist as well as the ritual that comes with eating them. Those who love shelling their seafood will find their happy place on the Provençal coast. Served with cold white Cassis wines, the shellfish are ready to be enjoyed. Covered with small spikes like the sea urchin, or wrinkled like sea squirts, their appearance makes them seem inedible or even hostile, but belie their subtle flavour.
Sea urchins are the most famous, sold by the dozen, and enjoyed for their delicate taste of their coral, they are found mainly in Marseilles and on the Côte Bleue.
With their strange appearance, sea squirts are consumed while they are alive and without any added ingredients. The most sought after is the « violet de roche » sea squirt from Marseilles or from La Ciotat.
Small green-coloured crabs, known as « favouilles » fill out the rest of the platter. They are also used in many recipes. The slipper lobster, a type of shellfish appreciated for its intense, delicious flavour, is used to liven up Bouillabaise and rockfish soup.
It is also a part of a typical Provençal recipe, the green crab rice pilaf. Specialities from Camargue, wedge clams or sea beans, are a type of shellfish buried in the sand.
Makes 4 servings
• 3 kg fish (depending on availability): scorpion fish,
Saint-Pierre, tub gurnard, weeverfish, monkfish
• 700 g soup fish
• 3 potatoes – 3 tomatoes
• Olive oil, garlic, onions, fennel, parsley, saffron, salt, pepper
Sauté the onions, garlic and tomatoes in olive oil over high heat. Add the soup fish, already cleaned and sliced, and stir for about 15 minutes to obtain a smooth consistency. Add boiling water and simmer for at least 1 hour. Add fennel, parsley, salt and pepper. Put through the food mill and then through a sieve. Add raw potatoes, cut into large slices, then the fish, starting with the largest. Cook for 20 minutes. Add the tub gurnard fish and cook for 5 more minutes. Once it has been thoroughly cooked, remove the fish, the potatoes, add salt, pepper and saffron and pour into dishes. Serve with Rouille sauce and garlic croutons.