How Provence came to Parsons Green

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The recipe from Elizabeth David was enticing, as were, nay, are, so many of her recipes. It was culled from a M Berot, “once chef des cuisines on the Ile de France – a liner celebrated for its good cooking” at “L’Escale, a hospitable and charming restaurant at Carry-le-Rouet, a little seaside place west of Marseilles.” Bourride reeked with the romance of Provence, with the pungency of garlic and with the excitement of a new and perhaps challenging dish. A callow youth of 25 with no professional cooking experience but armed with great greed and the insouciance of youth, I determined to give it a go.

It was not quite so easy to transpose the scent of the Midi to the still ungentrified Fulham of the 1970s. I managed to get the olive oil: Luigi’s, an Italian delicatessen, had already opened just off Parsons Green and one no longer had to go to Boots to get that. Garlic was easy enough and, strangely, or perhaps in a rare moment of compromise, Mrs David did not prescribe saffron. The problem was the fish. “Angler fish”, now better known as monkfish but then little known and used mainly to fake scampi, was not to be found at the fishmongers in the New King’s Road. Salmon, kippers, herrings and cod seeming inappropriate, I opted for some lemon sole fillets.

What could go wrong did. The inexperienced cook follows Elizabeth David for her inspiration, for her precise sense of sensation, scent and savour of a food but not necessarily for a step-by-step, paint-by-numbers approach to recipe writing. One was better off spending a bit of time with Julia Child, who took six pages to describe how to make boeuf bourguignon, if one still had culinary “L” plates on one’s back. I thought I knew better: the lemon sole quickly overcooked and turned to rags and I managed to split the sauce, not realising that the light, silky texture of the sauce was exactly what was required.

No matter: I persevered and I hope my version of bourride is reasonably simple to follow. It is not such a very difficult dish, especially if the fish is robust and one remembers to finish the sauce only at the very last moment. Meanwhile, L’Escale is still there, in Carry-le-Rouet, and a very congenial place it looks too, with a menu still specialising in fish in a traditional Provençal style. Whether M Berot’s heirs still make a good bourride I shall make it my business to discover.


M Berot’s bourride used only monkfish and cautious cooks may wish to follow his example. To my mind a true bourride is like a fish soup and made with a variety of fish. Gurnard, ling and sea bream all work well. Recipe for six.

1 monkfish tail weighing 750g
3 red mullet weighing 200g each
3 John Dory weighing 300g
1 cod head
1 tsp milled white pepper
½ tsp sea salt
1 onion
2 leeks
3 cloves of garlic
Saffron, a generous pinch
Olive oil
½ bottle white wine
1 baguette
100ml double cream
200ml aioli (see below)

● Ask the fishmonger to fillet the John Dory and the mullet, to remove the pin bones from the latter, and to keep the bones. Ask him to remove the membrane from around the monkfish but to leave it attached to its central cartilage and to cut the fish into six thick slices, cut across the bone.

● Slice the onion and leeks and stew them in a tablespoon of olive oil for a couple of minutes on a gentle flame. Add the finely chopped garlic, stew for a couple of minutes longer and then add the fish bones with the cod’s head. Turn them for a couple of minutes on the heat and then add saffron, a teaspoon of milled white pepper, sea salt and white wine. Cover with cold water, bring gently to the boil and cook for 40 minutes and then strain. Cut 12 slices of the baguette diagonally, brown under the grill and rub with garlic while still warm. Place these toasts on a large serving dish.

● Place the monkfish slices in a shallow saucepan, cover with the stock and poach gently on top of the stove until just cooked. Lay the John Dory fillets in an ovenproof dish and the red mullet in another, moisten with a little of the stock, cover with greaseproof paper and place in a medium oven (mark 5, 190°C, 375°F) and bake for five minutes or until just cooked. Place all the fish on top of the toasts and keep warm in the oven with the door slightly ajar.

● Combine the stocks in the pan in which the monkfish was cooked and bring to a vigorous boil. Reduce considerably until there is barely 200ml (slightly less than half a pint) of liquid left. Stir in the double cream, bring back to the boil and reduce slightly until the liquid starts to thicken. Strain the stock into the bowl of aioli, whisking very well. Return this sauce to the stove and stir carefully, using a spatula to clear the sides and bottom of the pan: on no account let it boil. Like a custard, the sauce will thicken very slightly and gain a rich and velvety texture. Remove from the heat immediately and pour the sauce over the fish and serve.


6 cloves of garlic
1 tsp sea salt
4 egg yolks
1 tsp milled white pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
300ml olive oil

● Peel the garlic and chop roughly. Add the salt and proceed to pulverise the garlic by crushing it with the flat of a heavy knife. Continue to work the garlic, using the edge of the knife at a very narrow angle to the board and rocking it across the mass until it breaks down to a smooth paste (can be done with a mortar and pestle).

● Place the salt and garlic paste in a bowl and combine it with the egg yolks, pepper and lemon juice. Whisk together well before starting to add the olive oil in a thin stream. Continue to whisk constantly as the mixture starts to thicken, gradually increasing the flow of oil as the emulsion gets larger in mass. The result should be a thick, glossy greenish-yellow ointment in which you can stand a spoon.

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