I love the French word for seafood: fruits de mer. Fruit from the sea. It’s the perfect way to describe the many colorful and sometimes bizarre fish and shellfish found in France.
Some of my favorite crustacean friends are: crabs, lobster, langoustines, mussels, oysters, octopus, scallops, shrimp and urchins. I use “friends” in the loosest sense, as I am actually a bit afraid of most of them. But thankfully I have just discovered a new word in French: décortiqué, peeled or shelled. So now when I go to a restaurant at least I know that if I don’t see that magic word on the menu, the waiter will be bringing me a plate with the heads and legs still attached to the little guys I ordered, their beady little eyes staring me down.
At any of the large outdoor market in France, you are sure to find at least two or three stands selling the fresh catch of the day. The hard part is figuring out what the heck the French word is for the few types of seafood I actually recognize, and then screwing up the courage to order it from le poissonnier. Once you get over that hump, you’re still not quite finished. Now you have to figure out how you want it prepared, which for me, is actually a real luxury. I have so many memories of standing on a chair next to my daddy in front of the kitchen sink gutting and scaling fresh Colorado trout, I am quite happy to have someone else take over.
Luckily the handy French phrase: Pourriez-vous me le préparer s’il vous plâit, seems to do the trick…until he asks me just how I want it prepared. Bones out? Gills removed? Heads to make soup? Shells and skins for the stock? I think, although I can’t be sure, I’ve even been given advice on what to use the eyeballs for.
Oh, la vache! Someday I hope my French is good enough to answer these questions, but for now, a generous smile and a frequent merci bien is working well enough.
oursin/ sea urchin
décortiqué: peeled or shelled
le poissonnier: fishmonger
merci bien: thanks a lot
Oh, la vache! Holy cow!
Pourriez-vous me le préparer s’il vous plait: Could you please prepare it for me (which usually implies gutting, scaling and deboning)