For some years, we had an office-come-apartment in Bethnal Green. We were in an ideal position to shop for good food. To the north, there was Ridley Road Market where we could buy fresh vegetables, fresh meat, fresh fish and sausages of all sorts.
A trip into town on the Number 8 bus took us to Berwick Street Market where we could buy the finest cheeses. On a Sunday we were in walking distance of Brick Lane Market.
To the south east, there was the new Billingsgate Market for the finest choice of fish.
For the mostpart, we could obtain all we needed from the local shops and the nearby Tesco Metro, but for high days and holidays and meals for special guests, we would venture further afield.
When we decided that we would have Moule Mariniere, we set off for Billingsgate. We would arrive around 11am when almost everyone who had been selling at the market had gone home. However, there was always one office open, an office where they were still willing to sell us some mussels. We would buy a couple of kilos of their finest and take them back to the flat. There, we would commence the long process of preparing them for eating.
First, we removed the barnacles and limpets with a sharp knife. Then we would put them back in soak. Then we would remove the “beards” and while doing so, examine each mussel to see that it was edible. If a mussel is shut at this stage, one is obliged to give it a whack with the back of the knife blade. If the mussel opens up it is edible, if it does not, it must be discarded.
We would put the mussels through several washes until we were satisfied that they were perfectly clean. Then, the recipe: (That is to say the one we used)
Melt 30 grams butter in a pan, and one chopped shallot, parsley, chopped celery leaves and a glass of dry white wine. 3.5 litres of mussels are added to the pan and cooked for several minutes with the lid on. Remove the mussels to a warm tureen.
Strain the stock and return it to the pan and let it reduce by half. In a small saucepan, place 17 centilitres of double cream and bring it to the boil when it will reduce and thicken. Add the boiling cream to the mussel stock and then stir in a lump of butter. This is now poured over the mussels. Add a portion of chopped parsley to the mix and serve immediately.
Having tasted the wonderful Bouillabaise at Fon Fon’s in Marseilles, we would wonder how close we could get to it by buying fish in Ridley Road Market. We always decided, finally, that we could not get near it, so we would settle for La Bourride. We would only do this for a sizeable party of guests.
First, it is necessary to make Aloui, a garlic-flavoured Mayonnaise.
Start with 8 cloves of garlic, the yolks of two eggs and 25 centilitres of the best olive oil.
Pulp the peeled garlic, add the eggs yolks and a sprinkle of salt. Stir. When the garlic and the eggs have mixed well, start adding the oil. To start with this should be drop by drop until the aioli starts to thicken After half the oil has been used and the mix has become more solid, it is now possible to pour, albeit gradually, the remainder of the olive oil. The sauce become thicker and thicker until it is almost solid.
From Ridley Road market, we would buy four or five different types of white fish. Monkfish, Rock Eel, Sea bream, Turbot and Brill. The fishmonger would prepare all these for us, so that all we had to do was to cut them up and place them in the cooking dish.
But first, we would make a stock, using the Heads and bones of fish into a large but shallow cooking dish. To this we added a sliced leek, a slice of lemon, some parsley stalks, a teaspoon of salt, a tablespoon of wine vinegar and about 85 centilitres of water. Simmer for 25 to 30 minutes. Strain the stoc. In a large shallow cooking dish put a tablespoon of olive oil and the chopped white of another leek. Heat the pan add a clove of garlic, crushed, place in the pan the seasoned fillets of fish, cover with the stock and poach for 20 minutes.
Remove the fish pieces on to a pre-warmed serving dish and place in a low oven to keep warm.
Reduce the stock in the pan by bringing it to a full rolling boil. Reduce the stock until there is only about one third of the original volume left. Stir in two tablespoons of cream and let it bubble for a few seconds.
This sauce should not be poured into the previously prepared aioli. It should have the consistency of a thick cream. Pour it over the fish fillets. Wow !!