Shellshock

Loving to be by the seaside is all very well as long as one is not a crustacean. Being beside the sea is as much fun for them as being under the sea would be for us. How is it that I, an apologist for preserving the life of creatures, don’t give a fig for the lot of les fruits de mer? Maybe my conscience would be easier if I named all cloven hoofed creatures as les fruits des champs, allowing me to tuck into a fruit pie of beef and ale or a light  Charlotte d’Agneau. I treasure the irrationality of advancing years that allows me to rejoice in tearing off the heads and legs of one genre of creatures whilst being distraught by the demise of another. I confess that if the crustacean head and leg ripping involved arterial spray I might have to opt for scrambled eggs.

“I’ve often seen families of sixteen people, or more, seated at a long table on the terrace of a restaurant. Parents, grand parents, children, grand children, uncles and aunts are all there. The group will be enjoying aperitifs of Pastis or Kir or any one of the aromatic drinks beloved by the French, such as Lillet. There is a sense of anticipation. Waiters appear carrying large round metal dishes brimming with fresh sea food. and carefully place them on the metal support frames which are already in position. Critical eyes are quickly appraising quality and quantity. The waiters continue to place small white china bowls of mayonnaise, with which to anoint the crabs and langoustines, or in which to dip the whelks. There are also the shallow bowls of red wine vinegar and sliced shallot for the oysters. Chilled Muscadet, Sancerre or Charentais white wine will be poured into waiting glasses. Butter, which only makes rare appearances on a French dining table, is liberally daubed on slices of dark rye bread. There is laughter and chatter; the scene is set. Hands reach out to take their first choice of oyster, crab or langoustine and suddenly a sense of concentration pervades the gathering. Eating, and most importantly, enjoying seafood entails having certain manual skills. The ability to remove every edible part from a crab needs determination, and a clear knowledge of the beast. Which parts are to be discarded, and which to be savoured between asides to neighbours and sips of chilled wine. Releasing an oyster from its anchorage in the shell without reducing it into a grey mush, adding a spoonful of vinegar shallot condiment and raising the brimming shell to your lips for the final moment is another tour de main. Corks studded with thick pins are placed at strategic places around the table. These will be wielded like tiny rapiers to extract the”bigorneaux” from their shiny black convoluted shells. Bulots need a vigorous twist of the pin to remove them from their shell, before dipping them into a swirl of mayonnaise. More courageous souls will be using small spoons to carefully lift out the the perfumed orange flesh from black spiked sea urchins. This theatre is acted out in near silence. Mouths are full  and minds are locked into the problems of separating the delicious morsels from their submarine armour. The once immaculately laid table is now scattered with the detritus of cracked claws and empty shells, surmounted by crumpled napkins. Strange implements, which are uncannily similar to surgical tools, protrude from the ruins of cracked pink shells, that were once crabs. The silence is now broken as animated conversation breaks out between the group. Here is the opportunity to talk about family before confronting the taxing decisions concerning cheese and dessert. There’s a long afternoon ahead.” Extract from my book “Simply Fed” which is available as an e book

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About Food,Photography & France

Photographer and film maker living in France. After a long career in London, my wife and I have settled in the Vendee, where we run residential digital photography courses with a strong gastronomic flavour.
This entry was posted in aperitif, Art photography, Crayfish, Drinks, Excellence, Expectation, family, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Humour, hypocrisy, Kir, langoustines, lifestyle, Lillet, Meat, Memory, Muscadet, Mussels, oysters, Pastis, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, prawns, Sancerre, sea urchins, seafood, Still life, Sunday, Uncategorized, Wine, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

53 Responses to Shellshock

  1. You manage to make a messy, gluttonous scene sound romantically lovely.

  2. cecilia says:

    You’re going to make a stew out of Charlotte? Don’t look Charlotte. Don’t look! You are lucky she can’t read yet. At least you won’t tear her head off, that WOULD be messy. c

  3. Tessa says:

    Beautiful langoustines! This post reminds me of a restaurant that I visited in Seattle last summer… It did not take me long to figure out that the butcher paper covering the tables was there for a functional reason. Dungeness crab and other locally caught crustaceans were served directly on the paper along with mallets, crackers and little metal picks. Deliciously messy.

  4. spree says:

    Roger, pure brilliance! Of course the photographs are just Exceptional! The first is evocative (maybe this is my own warped imagination) of drunken sailors hanging over the edge of the ship. Such an attention-grabber that one! But your writing Roger – pick a superlative! They all apply. I can’t imagine an eating scene being set more brilliantly, more sensorily, than you have done! Simply, Bravo!

  5. I’ll be back for more.. your writing really transports me, Roger! Are there recipes included in your ebook?

  6. Evocative! Thank you Roger.

  7. Tandy says:

    Reading these words make me want an invite to that table :)

  8. Mad Dog says:

    I have the very same tools – it’s amazing what one can buy in a French supermarket!
    When I was at art college, the Fijian guy in the next room to me had his grandfather’s dinner tools hanging on the wall – specially made for cracking open a human brain and scooping the insides out. I can see a certain similarity ;-)

  9. OK, of all the awesome photos you post, that first one easily jumped to my top five.

  10. ChgoJohn says:

    What a picture you paint! Back in The Day, there were very often at least 13 of us at the dinner table. Though the dinner you described is far beyond our means at the time, I can nevertheless picture my family members seated at that table. Thanks, Roger, for the smile.

  11. ambrosiana says:

    As I read this post, I can imagine that French family gathering around eating delicious frutti di mare!! Brilliant!! In Italy, that same kind of family would be eating their spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) or risotto alla crema di scampi (risotto with creamy prawn sauce).

  12. The beauty of your photographed prawns reminds me to ask whether you’ve seen “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” on Netflix. I think you would greatly appreciate the cinematography of the sushi.

  13. Michelle says:

    Bravo, Roger. Love those little guys.

  14. Eha says:

    Was just going to allow my computer its midday nap and go make myself some lunch: somehow I feel I have been to a marvellous seafood one already tho’ . . . thanks for the invitation :) !

  15. Oh, the prawnanity.

    Or is it prawniness?

    Prawnkind?

  16. Rachel says:

    As always, something to “chew over” and great photos. Mmmm… hmmm…

  17. Simply wonderful. Now, how am I supposed to consume a boring turkey sandwich for lunch after looking at this? :)

  18. Caroline Bellenberg says:

    Shellshock made my day what a great image. It’s cold grey and rainy in south London, such a treat to visit your blog, and be taken to somewhere more inspirational.

  19. And, now I’m hungry. I can’t get langoustines where I am, but shrimp and lobster are plentiful at the fish market.

  20. Loved the first shot! ;)

  21. emmycooks says:

    Those things look jauntier than they ought to given their situation. A long lunch is a glorious thing, and this is a fitting tribute!

  22. Roger, these photos are worthy of their own book!

  23. As your extract suggests, there’s something wonderfully communal about eating fruits de mer with the tiers of prawns, oysters and so much else placed in the centre for sharing. Not that I’d want to live without meat as well! I obviously have a much tougher, less sympathetic character than you, because this doesn’t bother me in the least. Great shot of those innocent beings just hanging there waiting to be eaten.

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