Bordeaux and its fish

By the Garonne and near the Bay of Arcachon, Bordeaux has various culinary specialities when it comes to fish and shellfish. Here’s a quick overview of the dishes which all Bordeaux residents love.

Some seasonal fish swim up or down the Garonne to reproduce. They are only fished during short periods, which makes them rare. My favourite fish is the shad. I look forward to eating it for two reasons: it’s delicious and its availability means that the good weather of April and May is here. The shad is a large fish which lives in the ocean and mates in the Garonne. Once they are born, young shad will return to the ocean, in turn. Shad has a tasty, smooth flesh. Its one small drawback? It has a lot of bones. Don’t mix it up with the twaite shad or the American shad, which are smaller and have drier flesh. To prepare shad, I just grill it in the oven. There’s even a shad guild.

Baby eels, glass eels and eels are also sought after. They have quite a short season, from January to February. I don’t like young eels which look like little worms and which need a lot of garlic and pepper to give them some flavour. Eels, which are the adult version, are cut up and served in small mouthfuls, cooked in garlic and parsley. The baby eels which are born in the Sargasso Sea come to the Garonne before becoming adult eels; they will then make the reverse trip.

The lamprey is a kind of big snake which lives in the sea and makes its way to the Garonne around December. The lamprey, which is not strictly a fish, is rather ugly. It’s not eaten straight away. It is cooked with Bordeaux wine and leeks and is then preserved either at home or by professionals such as Garde and Lou Gascoun. It’s a dish with very unique taste and is often accompanied by boiled potatoes.

I also like salt cod with potato mash. Cod arrived in Bordeaux thanks to cod fishermen who left to fish in Newfoundland. It was dried in Bègles, near Bordeaux. There used to be many drying plants which have mostly disappeared. An old drying plant has a ceramic work by René Buthaud, the great Bordeaux ceramist, in the shape of a cod as part of its frontage. This building housed an artists’ collective known as the “Black Cod”. Their works can still be seen in the garden but it’s all deserted now. For the last few years, Bègles has organised the Festival of Cod in June.

Lastly, oysters from the Bay of Arcachon are always served for special occasions. Pacific oysters are the most common but I prefer European oysters which have almost disappeared, with their more pronounced and iodised taste. They’re always difficult to open. In Bordeaux, we like to serve oysters with sausages.

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