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