Friday, March 6, 2015

Brochet; Pike, the Fish. Brochet on French Menus.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
A pike.
Photograph courtesy of nicolas.kennis.
Brochet, Grand Brochet du Nord – Pike; Northern Pike; American Pike; Jack; Jackfish or Pickerel.
Pike are one of the tastiest freshwater fish. They have a firm white flesh and are much appreciated both on their own and as an essential part of many freshwater fish stews.  Pike are also the fish behind the original French quenelles, pike meat dumplings.
Grilled pike.
Photograph courtesy of avlxyz.
Pike is on many French fish restaurant menus.
Pike is a very popular game fish everywhere, but more often seen on French fish restaurant menus than those in North America or the UK.  Pike are a very bony fish and  the smaller fish served in restaurants require a great deal of work in the kitchen. However, from listening to a French chef discussing this, I discovered how they speed up the deboning process.  For a small whole pike that will be baked, braised or grilled the fish is first lightly-cooked for 10 to 15 minutes in a fish stock. Then the pike’s otherwise very problematic bones may be easily removed.  After deboning the fish it may be prepared as filets or re-assembled and baked as a whole fish, cooked, and served without bones.
N.B.: There may be some confusion when reading French only menus. A menu may be offering brochettes.  Brochettes are skewers of grilled meat, fish or vegetables. Brochet is pike; the spelling is the problem.
Pike on French menus:
Quenelle de Brochet au Sauce Mornay - Pike dumplings with a Mornay sauce. This is the traditional pike meat dumplings served with a Sauce Mornay.  A Sauce Mornay is a child of Sauce Béchamel, a nutmeg flavored white sauce. To make Sauce Mornay just add Gruyere or Parmesan cheese. Quenelles are a main dish, the French plat principal.
Quenelles de brochet –Pike meat dumplings.
Photograph courtesy of hohbukuro.
Pike was originally the only fish used to prepare quenelles, pike meat dumplings. Traditionalists consider it a true act of lésé majesté when fish quenelles are made with any fish other than pike. These dumplings originated in the 18th century and were originally sold by bakers. Bakers made flour and or puff pastry dumplings that could be added to a soup.  Adding pike and later poultry or veal to bread or puff pastry dumplings was a fairly short step.
Terrine de Brochet aux Petits Legumes – A pike fish pate made together with young vegetables. A pike pate is very different to a pike quenelle.  Quenelles are made with 50% or more puff-pastry or flour, and the sauce is of great the greatest importance. A pike pate will be at least 75% fish, it may be decorated with vegetables or shrimp.

Terrine de brochet et petits legumes. 
Photograph courtesy of euqus.
Pavé de Brochet Grillée – A thick filet of  grilled pike.
Brochet du Lac, Fumé à Froid, Garni de Salades.  Cold-smoked lake pike served with small salads.
Brochet au Beurre Blanc Nantais – Pike served with Nantaise butter sauce.   Sauce Beurre Blanc or Sauce Beure Blanc Nantaise is made with crème fraiche, butter, a dry white wine, lemon and shallots. This sauce is  one of the tastiest and most popular French sauces served with fish, seafood or vegetables. The city of Nantes is the capital of the region of the Pay du Loire and with its setting on the River Loire it is a beautiful city.

Pike served with a Sauce Beurre Blanc Nantaise. 
Photograph courtesy of Roland707
 Brochet Braisé au Champagne -  Pike braised in champagne.
Matelote de Brochet, Perche, Anguille, Tanche au Vin Blanc – A matelote is a freshwater fish stew. Here pike, freshwater perch, eel and tench are in the stew. French freshwater fish stews very often contain pike, as they are a really tasty fish. A stew like this will be prepared with added white wine and herbs. Pike is a bony fish, but when cooked in a stew or soup the bones mostly dissolve. Pike bones add greatly to the taste and texture
A matelote.
Photograph courtesy of HungryJac
Pike are among the longest though not the heaviest, European freshwater fish. Large fish, caught in the wild, reach over 120 cm (40”) or more. The pike that a restaurant buys may have been caught be wild; however, they will not be that large. Most wild pike will be much smaller, between 1.5 kilos – 3 kilos (3 lbs – 7lbs) and  55 cm – 70 cm ( 2ft – 2.5 ft) long. Pike are also raised in fish farms and those will be even smaller. The smallest sold will be just 500 grams (1.1lb). 500 grams would be a serving for two, or one if you are very hungry.  When the head, tail and bones have been removed some 300 grams of meat will be left.  Pike’s long aerodynamic  shape gave pike its name. According to the origins of the name pike, the fish, comes  from Old English  where the word pic meant a point.

A very, very  large pike.
Photograph courtesy of RTD Photography.
Translated French menus may sometimes confuse brochet which is pike in English with pike-perch or sander.  Pike-perch is a somewhat similar looking fish and called sandre or perche-brochet in French. However, pike-perch comes from a different family to pike and it is a different tasting fish.
Pike in the language of France’s neighbors:
 (German – hecht )  (Italian - luccio), (Spanish - lucio),
Pike in other languages:
 (Chinese (Manadarin) - 白斑狗);  (Dutch- snoek); (Danish- gedde); (Greece - tούρνα,  tourna), (Hebrew -  pickerel tzfoni -  פיקרל צפוני), (Icelandic – gedda); (Japanese – kawakamasu); (Latvian – gjedde);  (Polish – szczupak); (Portuguese –Lúcio); (Rumanian – Ştiucă);  (Russian - obyknovennaya schuka); (Ukrainian –shtschuka); (Turkish - turna baligi). For these translations thanks go to FishBase: Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2014.  FishBase. World Wide Web electronic publication., version (11/2014).
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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French menu
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