Monday, April 02, 2007

Le Poisson d'Avril

Whew! I’ve finally caught up with my lists of "things to do" and I’m back in the saddle for a weekly post to La Fourchette. April Fools!! Actually, that’s what I’m talkin’ about...a little French twist on the annual day for pranks and pranksters.

Here in the ‘hood we have Le Poisson d’Avril, a tradition which has its roots in 1564, the year in which the new year would have been celebrated on April 1 as in all the years that had come before, had it not been for the king of France at the time, Charles IX. Seems our Chuck decided to create his legacy with a modification of the calendar year and decreed that beginning in 1565, the new year would, from this day forward, be celebrated on January 1. (These kinds of crazy things happen when leaders are trying to establish their "legacies", don't they?!?) To go along with the new design, people wished one another a good new year and gave gifts to each other just as they would ordinarily do on the “New Years Day” of April 1.

But when April 1 arrived that year, there were a few (aren’t there always!) who were not so happy with the new order of things and showed their displeasure by making gifts for the "real New Year" as they had always done. It turns out that these "rebels" were jokers of a sort and the gifts were false gifts done mostly for laughter with little or no other value.

From that day forward, the first of April has become known as a day for laughter, jokes and pranks. Ahhh...but what about the fish, you ask? At this time France's history, fishing was prohibited at the beginning of April because it was the time for reproduction in the fish kingdom. One of our hearty pranksters tossed herrings into the river and was reported to exclaim, “Les Poissons d’Avril” (the fish of April) to play a joke on the fishermen. (Keep in mind, Jerry Lewis is still popular here!)

Our 21st century pranksters do not toss herrings into fresh water anymore but instead, as discreetly as possible, stick a small paper fish on the backs of people who then walk around all day with the “fish of April” tacked onto their backs. Always good for a giggle, it's pretty innocent on the scale (yes, pun intended...I'm in that kind of mood!) of pranks.

The fish connection may have its roots in early Christian symbols, a few herrings tossed in the river for a good laugh or the fact that in the zodiacal calendar, the moon leaves the sign of Pisces at the beginning of April. Whatever the connection, there’s no getting away from those April Fools pranks...even when you move thousands of miles from the home of April Fools!

Here’s hoping that all of your Poissons d’Avril are made of chocolate...or baked in a salt crust.

This is a fabulous dish that makes a stunning presentation. If you want to make your guests "ooooh and ahhhhh"...give this a try!

Bon Appétit!


Whole Fish Baked in a Salt Crust

Make sure your fish is fresh and when you clean it, do not scale it. Leaving the scales on will add flavor and allow the salt to adhere better to the fish making the final filet process much easier. Use red snapper or dorade...actually just about any whole fish will work done in this manner.

1 very fresh large whole fish (2 1/2 to 3 pounds) or four small fish
(1 1/2 pounds)

6 - 8 cups of coarse sea salt

1 lemon, thinly sliced

Several fresh bay leaves and whole herbs such as branches of thyme,
etc. (optional)

Good quality olive oil (the best you have) for a drizzle after it's on the

Rinse fish and pat dry. Place lemon slices, bay leaves and herbs inside of fish. Spread half of salt in a baking dish just large enough to hold fish. (The tail and head can be sticking out of the salt if need be.) Place fish on top, pressing it into salt. Place 2 or 3 bay leaves on top of skin before covering with remaining salt. Spread remaining salt over fish to completely cover it. Compact salt by patting it. (The moisture of the fish and salt will create a hard crust as it bakes.)

Bake fish at 450 degrees 25 to 40 minutes until cooked, depending on size of fish. (Allow 10 per pound and adjust baking times by 5 minutes either way for each 1/2 pound of fish.) To test for doneness, insert slender metal skewer into thickest part of fish. When fish is cooked, it will come out very hot to the touch.

To serve, present fish to guests at the table. Using 2 large spoons, gently crack and remove top of salt crust. Transfer fish to platter and remove skin. (This eliminates all excess sodium.) Filet fish and serve it on plates with a generous drizzle of olive oil. Garnish with additional lemon slices. Makes 4 servings.


The Toronto Team said...

Thank you for the recipe. I tried this years ago, and had totally forgotten about this method of cooking a whole fish. I seem to recall moistening the salt a bit before spreading it on the fish, but your method doesn't require that. I'm definately not going to wait years to try this again.
Bye for now!

la fourchette said...

toronto team...avec plaisir! You are correct in your recollection of moistening the salt a bit...usually called for when not using natural sea salt which has a good deal of moisture in it already. It packs easily and forms a crisp crust that cracks nicely in large chunks for digging into the filet! I encourage you to get your fish buried in salt and into the oven. bon appétit!

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