I just returned from a beautiful week of sunny, yet cool weather in Brittany. While there I enjoyed north Atlantic fish, shellfish and crustaceans for most meals. To prepare for this trip, I researched the cuisine of Brittany and learned of the great oysters from Cancale, mussels from Mont Saint-Michel, ambitious plateau de fruits de mer and the ubiquitous Breton crepes – both sweet and savory – washed down with cider.
Preparing for my trip, I found this Breton dish on – À Savourer – a blog where Rachel Bajada documents its preparation by a cook in Brest who is known for the dish. I based this preparation of La Lotte à l’Armoricaine on the version documented by Rachel. It was made before leaving on my trip to gain an early appreciation for the cuisine of Brittany.
Rachel presents a good explanation of the confusion that exists over the origin and name for the sauce upon which this dish is based. The first explanation is an oft told story where unexpected diners arrive and the chef creates a new dish using ingredients on hand. Examples of this legend include Caesar Cardini’s salad or Igancio Anaya’s nachos. In this case a Breton chef, Pierre Fraisse, upon returning from Chicago to Paris was pressed for a meal by some late arriving diners. Using what was on hand, the chef prepared lobster in tomato sauce naming the dish Homard à l’Armericaine, or American Lobster, as a tribute to his years spent in the U.S.
Many Bretons proudly claim that this sauce originated Côtes-d’Armor region where the ingredients are commonly available – hence the reference to l’Armoricaine. By either name, this sauce makes for an excellent preparation of Monkfish – the poor man’s lobster.
It is a simple preparation requiring only a single pan that is first used to sauté and flambé the fish. Then, the same pan is then used to prepare the sauce. After the sauce is allowed to simmer , the monkfish is returned to the pan to finish and heat through.
- 2 lbs of Monkfish cut into 3/4” medallions
- 1 to 2 cups all purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons of everyday olive oil
- 1-1/2 ounce cognac
- 1 small white onion, diced
- 1 shallot, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-26 oz. can of chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
- 2 cups white wine
- 1 cup prepared fish stock
- 1 teaspoon dried Herbs de Provence (a blend that includes parsley, thyme, rosemary and other herbs characteristic of Provence)
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- Flat leaf parsley for garnish
- Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- Lightly dust the monkfish medallions with flour shaking or tapping to remove any excess. Set aside.
- In a sauté pan large enough to hold the monkfish medallions without crowding, add butter and oil. Bring to medium heat.
- When the butter is melted, add monkfish medallions and cook for 2 to 3 minutes each side. Add cognac to the pan and ignite with a long handled match. After the flame from the cognac has burned down, remove the fish to a plate and set aside.
- Add onions and shallots to the sauté pan and cook gently over low heat until the onions are translucent. Add garlic and sauté for an additional minute before adding tomatoes.
- To the pan, add wine, fish stock, tomato paste, herbs de Provence and smoked paprika. Let simmer for 20 minutes or until the stock reduces a bit and the flavors combine. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.
- Return the monkfish medallions to the pan and cook for 5 additional minutes until the monkfish is heated through. Remove from the heat and garnish with parsley to serve.