Blog Post
Fish and Chips French Style

It's Sunday again and the nation (well about 9 million of us) has been caught up with Bake Off-Series 6 ! As has been said many times- I can't believe it's been a year since our group were waiting to watch our Episode 1.

Bake Off is so inspirational – I wanted to get off my seat and set to and make a Madeira cake.  I haven't had one in years. My grandmother always had one in the tin when I was growing up and she used to add caraway seeds and I noticed that Paul (contestant not male judge) used them in his.  Let's all enjoy the series – I'm certainly enjoying my new role as Bake Off columnist in The Telegraph.

Last week I was in France. I like to escape there when I have a few days spare to practise my French and enjoy the food,markets and of course the weather. I started to learn French 10  years ago so it is important to keep using it otherwise I find I get out of the groove and my communication skills become appalling.

I must tell you about lunch the other day. Tim and I went on a bike ride along the Canal du Midi to a little place called Trebes. We cycle along the canal because firstly it is flat and requires less energy and secondly because it is In the shade of the trees. After cycling for over an hour we arrived at a small fish restaurant by the canal with about 12 tables each with 4 seats. There was a simple blackboard displaying the Menu du Jour. It explained that there was a choice of three starters, three mains and one dessert – 15 euros all in!

We took our table promptly at midday and within a few minutes all the tables on the little outside eating terrace were rammed! It is a little family run affair mother does the cooking, the two daughters wait on tables and dad washes up.

I chose the prawn skewers for my starter. They were served with a small green salad, fresh bread and a slice of lemon. They had been quickly char grilled and were delicious. All tables were served with a bottle of chilled tap water and ice ( nobody had any bottled water) and with it we had a small carafe of the house white ! 

The main course that I chose was a pan fried daurade (bream). The fish comes complete with bones, head and tail and to complement it there was a small salad and a few chips – I describe it as French fish and chips ! I have to admit that I have a few freinds who would cringe at such a plate. For some reason there are people who don't seem to think that a fish has ever had a head and the thought of removing the flesh off the bone is enough for them to discard the meal completely. Many don't know how to fillet a fish, but why would they when wet fish shops are in decline and almost everything we see in the supermarkets is filleted and already prepared.

I remember a Frenchman once explained to me that in France customers ask to smell the fish before buying it. He told me the fish should have bright clear eyes and should have no smell at all. So when I returned to the UK I decided to go to my local Sainsburys to buy some fish.  I found the fish counter and to my delight there was a display of Sea Bass which had not been filleted. On closer inspection the eyes seemed a little dull and grey so I asked the young chap behind the counter if I could smell the fish. He thought for a while and then said " If you smell the fish you will have to buy it"  I told him that he could pick it up and all I wanted to do was to smell it, he looked a little perplexed and told me that no one had ever asked to smell a fish before buying  it. We are such an odd lot – needless to say I didn't buy the fish !

Back to my little restaurant – we finished with creme brûlée – the only dessert on offer but it tasted magnificent. The bill for two people came to 36 euros about £13 per head. The fish was fresh that day, limited menu but for me this has to be the way.  I always think that if you are given a menu with 20 – 30 choices, the freezer and microwave and goodness knows what else has to go into presenting a plate of food which is often disappointing,expensive and how old I wonder?

I love fish – fresh fish that is and my recipe this week is a real winner. Even people who say they don't like mackerel always love this. Take your time, follow my recipe and pin bone the fish and when you cook it make sure you get a crispy skin. Mackerel is a cheap fish and also good for your health.

Enough for this week – biscuits on Bake off next week – that should be a good one.

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