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Friday, March 6, 2015

Brochet - Pike, the Fish. Pike in French Cuisine

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated December 2017

Brochet, Grand Brochet du Nord – Pike; Northern Pike; American Pike; Jack; Jackfish or Pickerel.

Pike is 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 is also the fish behind the original French quenelles, pike meat dumplings.
Two grilled pike.
Pike is popular in France
Pike is a popular game fish, but more often seen on French fish restaurant menus than those in North America or the UK.  Pike is 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.


When reading a menu with the word Brochet
count the numbers of t’s.
A menu may be offering brochettes.  Watch the spelling. Brochettes with two t’s are skewers of grilled meat, fish or vegetables. Brochet with a single t is pike, the fish.  


Pike was initially the only fish used to prepare quenelles, pike meat dumplings. Traditionalists consider it a real 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.

Quenelle de Brochet, Sauce Nantua.
Sauce Nantua is a Béchamel sauce flavored with shrimp butter, though it was originally made with freshwater crayfish for which the town of Nantua in the department of Ain in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes; was once famous.  Today, from over-fishing and pollution any crayfish will not be local, and tomato paste may assist with the sauce’s color, but it remains a tasty sauce.  The small town of Nantua still today has a reputation for creative chefs.
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, which is a nutmeg flavored white sauce. To make Sauce Mornay from a Sauce Bechamel just add Gruyere or Parmesan cheese. Quenelles will be a main dish, the French plat principal.
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 importance. A pike pate will be at least 75% fish, with little or no flour. Pike terrines may be decorated with vegetables or shrimp and rarely served with a sauce.

Salmon and pike terrine.

Pavé de Brochet Grillée – A thick filet of grilled pike.
Brochet du Lac, Fumé à Froid, Garni de Salades - Cold-smoked, lake caught pike served with small salads.
Brochet au Beurre Blanc Nantais – Pike, served with Nantaise butter sauce.   The butter sauce from the city of Nantes. Sauce Beurre Blanc or Sauce Beure Blanc Nantaise is made with crème fraiche, butter, a dry white wine, (locally that would be a Muscadet, elsewhere it may be a Chablis),  lemon, and shallots. This sauce is one of the tastiest and most popular butter sauces served with white 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.

Brochet au Beurre Blanc Nantaise
Brochet Braisé au Champagne -  Pike, braised in champagne. I have enjoyed this dish where a sparkling cremant from the Alsace was used instead of Champagne, and it was terrific.
Matelote de Brochet, Perche, Anguille, Tanche au Vin Blanc – A matelote is a freshwater fish stew. Here pike, freshwater perch, freshwater eel, and tench are in the stew. French freshwater fish stews very often contain pike, as they are a 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 significantly to the taste and texture of the soup.

Matelote de Poissons au Reisling.
A  fish stew with Reisling wine.

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 in the 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 on fish farms, and these will be even smaller. The smallest sold will be just 500 grams (1.1lb). A 500-gram pike will 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.
Catch your own pike.
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:
(Catalan - lluç de riu or luci), (Dutch - snoek), (German – hecht )  (Italian - luccio), (Spanish - lucio).
Pike in other languages:
(Chinese (Manadarin) - 白斑狗); (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

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