Monday, September 12, 2016

Seawater Soup

A quick life update: I finished my master's thesis and handed in that sucker the last week of August (yay!) and have moved out of London definitively. I'm now in Bordeaux with Pierre applying for jobs and, in the interim, learning how to be a French housewife. It's... interesting. The main takeaway so far is that French daytime reality television is just as horrendous as its American predecessors. My favorite: Four Weddings, One Honeymoon, where couples allow judges to come say snarky things about their big day and then grade them on it ("I give the wedding dress a 6/10. I don't mind that it's pink, I just mind the slit all the way up to her hip. It's... not very classy"), in the hopes of winning their dream lune de miel. Who knew? France can be just as lowbrow as America. 

In other news, I have oodles of time to cook, and PH and I are enjoying the late summer open-air market to its fullest. I'm getting more experimental, now that I'm less constrained by things like "word counts" and "sleeping at the library", which has led to me answering the question, Can You Make Soup Out Of the Ocean? Short answer: yes, although whether you should is a different conversation. 

Last weekend Pierre and I drove with a couple of friends to Cap Ferret, a spit of land separating the ocean from the Bassin d'Arcachon. We had a lovely Sunday afternoon on the beach, biked along the bay, and brought back mussels and clams, which we ate with green beans from Pierre's family's garden and a chilled rose. It was decadent without being heavy, which allowed us to more easily excuse following it with a cheese course (mais bien sur!) and dessert. 

Legs or hotdogs? Legs or hotdogs?!
The first time I ate mussels was with my family at a restaurant in London called Belgo. It was great for two reasons: (a) moules frites are delicious, and (b) they served Belgian beer, rather than its flat English counterpart. Lack of carbonation may be the secret to why the English can drink like sponges, but it does not make for good beer, particularly served warmish. What stood out most, however, was the sauce: a creamy mariniere heady with garlic and white wine. Pierre taught me last weekend how that's made-- the mussels open as they heat, spilling out the seawater inside them. A pot that began with only shallots, garlic, and closed shellfish ended two-thirds filled with broth, or deliciously flavored seawater, clam juice, and wine (we left out the creme fraiche). 

Doing their mussely thing
I saved a bowl of the broth and used it as stock for a sort of quasi-Asian fish soup with udon noodles and wood ear mushrooms, known in France as oreilles de Judas, or Judas' ears. Leery of the overpowering salt content, I cut it with plain tap water and vegetable bouillon, and let the mushrooms and Chinese cabbage simmer for a while before adding mackerel. Still, it would seem (now that I'm writing it I guess it goes without saying, yet here we are) that a little seawater goes a long way. The soup was not bad; it was not immediately unpotable; and yet there was an undeniable aftertaste of, well, ocean. Pierre described it as "surprising", which is generally not a word I strive for in the kitchen. After a night in the fridge the udon noodles had absorbed much of the liquid, so I added more tap water before re-heating it, and that seemed to help. I'm still not sure this is going to go down in the books as much of a success, though. 

Seawater soup: it was a surprise!

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