I've fallen in love with a little place called Biarritz. It was a name I knew vaguely when I lived in America, and evoked an image of a shabby, once-grand watering hole now inhabited by blue-hair tinted, euro-retirees who delightfully have no shame when it comes to beach attire. Turns out those retirees are in Biarritz in abundance (how delightful they are,) but there is so much more to love.
The town center is an easy 10 minute cab ride, or even 30 minute walk. The town is small enough to wander around in a day, and there is a stretch of beach surf breaks a few miles long that will melt your heart. Biarritz is filled with pro-surfers, artists, entrepreneurs and remote workers who wander around looking beautiful and cool and relaxed. A secret sauce that I gazed at lovingly, hoping to absorb that sense of calm through osmosis. In Biarritz, you can't help but eventually absorb it. We surfed 2-3 times daily, took day trips to San Sebastian for pinxtos bar crawls and heavenly cheese cake, laid in the sunshine, watched the sunset, ate French and Basque food, and shopped in the glorious food market. My dream is to spend 1-2 months on this schedule.
My wonderful AirBnB host, Jeannie, was really generous with her kitchen and let me cook at her house as much as I wanted. One night, I went to the fish market and came back with a glut of seafood, mussels, shrimps, clams, called in French Fruit de Mar. I had a lovely time speaking French to the sweet lady behind the fish counter who asked me how I was going to prepare the fish. "Je ne sais pas," I replied. "Qe'est que tu recommendé?" "Avec les tomates." She replied. Well, as the lady says then.
This is an amazingly simple dish that relies on one simple thing. The quality and the freshness of the seafood. If you can't get fresh, then please don't bother. So maybe a nice excuse to head down to Biarritz. Make sure that all the mussels are closed really tight, any that are open are not usable. I went really simple with ingredients, but there are so many ways to do this. White wine or beer, adding a ton of chili, or sautéed red peppers, etc. Julia Child really nailed the mussels variations, and a simple google will turn up a million recipes. Let this dish be what I call a fridge clearer, where you take what you have and make it work. I made this while the sun set, so some of the pics aren't great when it got too late, but rest assured, the results were magnifique!
Fruit De Mar avec Les Tomates
- 3 large tomatoes, chopped roughly
- 1 large onion, diced or sliced finely
- 4 large cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1/4 lb each of mussels and shrimp, you can add clams and squid too, if you like.
- 1/2 bottle of pale beer
- 2 lemons
- crushed red chili to taste
- Salt and pepper
- 1 bunch basil, roughly chopped.
Place the mussels and clams in a pan of fresh water. This will make them spit out salt water and grit. Rinse several times in this manner until the water runs clear. Pull the little "beards" off the mussels, and give the shells a scrub with a brush.
Slice the onions and crush the garlic, and heat olive oil in a pan. Gently melt the onions in the pan until very very soft. Salt generously and add the chili.
Add the tomatoes and a generous squeeze of the lemon juice. Cook for five minutes on medium heat. Add the beer. Cook for another ten minutes. Add the seafood and cook until the shrimp are pink, and the mussels and clams have opened.
Serve with pasta, or toasted garlic bread. Goats cheese and mixed leaf salad make a great side.