Friday, September 27, 2013

France: Brittany - What Are They and Do They Taste Good? Plus: Seafood Paella

View of St. Malo

     We spent last weekend in France celebrating Dear Daughter's 12th birthday.  The trip was timed perfectly.  We arrived late Wednesday evening and spent an enjoyable morning cruising around the large indoor/outdoor market in the coastal town of Dinard.  We purchased food items for our dinner, early Christmas presents, sat outside and drank coffee like the locals and even managed a seaside stroll along the promenade.  That evening, we made a very nice seafood paella (recipe to follow).

     The weather was cool but mostly sunny on Friday.  After a slow and lazy start to the day, we headed to our favorite beach at St. Jacut de la Mer.  This time of year, the beach was nearly empty and the vacation houses, all boarded up.  I think for us, it is a great time of year to experience the area.  After our picnic lunch, we headed out to walk to the island.  The tides are very extreme in this area and during low tide, you can walk a mile out to a small (and inhabited) island.  As we walked, you could see locals and vacationers loaded down with various types of fishing equipment:  rakes, small shovels, buckets, and nets.  We are always amazed at what they will search for whether it be small clams (cockles), mussels, oysters or the occasional crab.  We have never been that lucky but we did manage to find several two scallops one year.  But since the bad oyster incident, we are hesitant; that is another story.

    We do like to walk and we do like to watch those who seem to know what they are doing do what they do.  Sometimes, we will try to ask questions but most of the time we quietly maneuver around the "fishermen", looking inside of their buckets and figuring out the daily catch.  

     On this particular outing we noticed for the first time, people carrying containers of salt.  They wandered not to far from the edge of the tide, their eyes glued to the sand.  Every few moments, the individual would stop, sprinkle some salt on the sand and then, a few seconds later, something would poke through the sand and the person would quickly grab it and put in a container.  We found a group of young Spaniards clearly engrossed in the activity.  Each of them were practically squatting on the sand, barely moving except for pouring salt and pulling out these sand creatures.  Their shells were long and straight and when you pulled them out, their bodies would partially hang from the shell almost like jelly.  It wasn't a pleasant sight but it was intriguing.

     I had to figure out what these things were and what you do with them.  I ventured over to the group and began in my pathetic French to ask one of the girls.  I have no idea what she said that they were but evidently you grilled them with oil and butter.  She then plunged one of creatures back into the sand indicating to me that it was too small.

     Dear Daughter and I were totally engrossed in the activity and vowed that the next day we would return and search for what we now called razor clams.  Dear Husband was a bit more skeptical.  "What are we going to do with them?"  "We will cook them and have them as an appetizer," was my response.  He was not totally convinced.

     The next day, looking the part in our new water boots and carrying a large container of salt, we made our way to roughly the same location and we started looking for holes and pouring salt.  Nothing happened.  We walked a little more and poured a little more salt...nothing happened.  Really?  It looked so easy yesterday.  What was our problem?  We tried over and over again to no success.  

     Finally, we spotted two small holes almost together.  We poured in the salt and the sand absorbed it and the hole gurgled a bit.  Excited, we poured a bit more salt and the same thing happened.  Then it stopped altogether and a second or two later, out popped the clam, its gelatinous head popping off.  We quickly grabbed it and then squealed with delight.  Shortly after that, we had "caught" almost a bucket full of these things.  Even Dear Husband was getting into the spirit of things.  He did still have one question..."What are we going to do with them?"

     I looked around and found a group of older women nearby.  I walked over to one and told her that we wanted to give her our catch.  "Non, c'est bon."  No, they are good.  She wouldn't take them!  I asked her how to cook - actually, I only knew the word for "Cook" and she seemed to understand and began to rattle off cooking instructions.  I understood most of her directions.  Off we went back home with at least 40 of these odd looking shellfish.

     I have heard that the Bretons will eat anything in a shell.  I know that I now eat certain shellfish that looks absolutely terrible - not just the cute little shrimp and lobsters but things like bullots (they look really gross but taste really good).  But as I started to cook whatever it was that we found, I realized that there was no way...that I was going to eat these.  I didn't even show them to the rest of the family - into the trash they went!  But here is a video of the adventure!

     Our seafood paella didn't contain any strange looking shellfish but you could always add some if you wish!

Seafood Paella

Seafood Paella
Adapted from a recipe by La Tienda

Note:  If you have not visited the website, you have to do so!  It has wonderful products from Spain.  Years ago, Dear Husband gave me a paella set and it is still one of my favorite presents.

Hint:  I am out of paella rice...Christmas present, anyone?

This makes a ton of paella so if you need to, cut the ingredients in half - it still served three of us with leftovers.

4 cubes seafood bouillon
1 tsp saffron, crushed
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
8 piquillo peppers, sliced (I rarely have these.  When I have them, I use them.  If not, then I don't)
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 lb chorizo, sliced into 1-inch slices
8 tbsp olive oil
2 cups Bomba or Calasparra rice
6 cups water (for Calasparra rice), 8 cups (for Bomba rice)
Various types of seafood:  I have used shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari, cod

(If you do not want to make it with seafood, then use diced chicken thighs.)

1.  Preheat oven to 400.  Put water on medium heat in a saucepan.  Add bouillon and shrimp shells.
2.  In a paella pan, brown the chorizo in 2 tbsp olive oil.  (If using chicken, season with salt and pepper and do the same thing.)  Remove.
3.  Add onion, bell pepper, tomato and garlic to pan.  Cook 5 minutes on medium high heat, stirring.
4.  Add rice, parsley, paprika, saffron and the rest of the olive oil to the pan
5.  Coat the rice with olive oil and cook five minutes, stirring constantly.
6.  Strain the broth and pour most of it into the paella pan, reserving about 2 cups.  Bring paella to a boil.
7.  Let simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring until rice is mostly cooked.  Add more broth as necessary.  Rice should have some liquid remaining.  Add salt and pepper to your taste.
8.  Bury the chorizo (and chicken, if using), shrimp, mussels, clams, fish in the rice.  (If using calamari, I wait about 5-10 minutes before adding it so that it doesn't overcook.)
9.  Scatter piquillo peppers (if using) on top.
10. Place uncovered in oven 20-30 minutes.  Cook until the rice is done to your taste.

1 comment:

  1. OMG! That was a scary movy. I know razor clams but I never had them so wouldn't know what they taste like. But I would by them in a shop next time or eat them in a restaurant.