Saturday, 14 July 2012

STAGE 13: SAINT-PAUL-TROIS-CHÂTEAUX - CAP D'AGDE

After a gruelling few days in the Alps, the Tour heads for the coast of the south of France. Today's stage finish is the Mediterranean seaside resort of Cap d'Agde in the Hérault departement of the Languedoc-Rousillon region. Cap d'Agde boasts a popular nudist beach, but I doubt the cyclists will be venturing anywhere near it when they arrive in the town!



The Languedoc-Roussillon region is dominated by 740,300 acres (2,996 km2) of vineyards, three times the combined area of the vineyards in Bordeaux. Some of the best known wines of this region include Corbières, Minervois AOC, Faugères, Saint-Chinian AOC, and the sparkling Crémant de Limoux, which is made by the méthode champenoise. 

As well as wine, the region also boasts a fine food heritage, with olive oil the basis of most cooking in this region. À la languedocienne means garnished with garlic, tomatoes, aubergines and cèpes (mushrooms), while à la catalan indicates a rich tomato sauce. A regional speciality I have enjoyed on holiday in this part of France is aligot, a deliciously smooth puree of potatoes, cheese and cream. Beef from the Camargue has its own AOC rating, and is often cooked stuffed with Camargue red rice. Other regional specialities include snails, monkfish, local seafood, suckling lamb, olives, crème catalane, a lemon, vanilla, and fennel seed custard, Brandade (salt cod), Tapenade (olive paste), and l'Ollada, a rich stew. Food from this region is heavily influenced by Spanish and Moorish cuisine.

My absolute favourite dish of all also comes from this region: Cassoulet, that classic stew of duck (or goose) with Toulouse sausages in a rich and aromatic white bean sauce. I could cheat here and simply reproduce my Cassoulet recipe (one which I know off by heart), but since this Gastro Tour is supposed to be a culinary journey for me as well as for the reader, I decided to try something new. Browsing various Languedoc food websites, I found a mouth-watering array of dishes - all of which I wanted to cook! In the end, I settled for Bourride, another classic of the region, a delicate Mediterranean seafood stew spiked with fiery chilli, orange zest and aioli (garlic mayonnaise) or rouille (spicy mayonnaise - the word literally means "rusty" in French). As you might expect, there are numerous variants of Bourride, and you can, and should, vary the types of fish and seafood used in the dish according to availability.

 Bourride

Mayonnaise
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 50 ml vegetable oil
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed   
(to turn this into rouille, simply add a teaspoonful of harissa paste - or buy a jar of ready made rouille. Waitrose keep it, and you can buy it in any French supermarket.)


For the stew
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 1/4 red peppers
  • 1 tbsp chopped celery
  • 1 tsp strands saffron
  • 1 bird's eye chilli, chopped
  • 1/2 orange, grated zest only
  • 500 ml chicken stock
  • 1 x 150 g halibut fillets, cut into chunks (or any mixture of firm-fleshed fish)
  • 1 x 150 g red mullet fillets, cut into chunks (ditto)
  • 100 g white scallops (optional)
  • 50 g cooked prawns, or shrimps
  • 4 triangles fried bread, to serve 
1. For the garlic mayonnaise: in a bowl combine the egg yolks, mustard and lemon juice. Gradually whisk in the oils until combined and thickened. Be careful not to add the oils too quickly or the mixture will curdle, but it is not disastrous if the mixture splits as it will be blended later. Stir in the garlic and season with salt and pepper.

2. For the stew: heat the oil in a large saucepan over a low heat. Gently fry the shallots, pepper and celery until softened.

3. Add the saffron, chilli and orange zest, followed by the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer briefly.

4. Add the fish in the order that it takes to cook, gently simmering until it just changes colour between each addition. Begin with the halibut, followed by the red mullet and finally the scallop and shrimp. The shrimp will just need warming through.

5. Take the pan off heat and drain all the liquid into a blender, reserving the fish in the pan.

6. Blend the liquid adding the mayonnaise a spoonful at a time, tasting as you go. Stop when the mixture begins to thicken - you may not need all of the mayonnaise.

7. Pour the mixture back onto the fish and warm through before serving, garnished with the fried bread. 

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