Thursday, 13 September 2012

Le pastis

Pastis is widely considered to be the drink of Provence, and not without good reason. It is rare to come across a man in this part of the world who does not like a Pastis or four before tucking in to dinner.

An aniseed flavoured spirit made from licorice root and sugar, pastis is a dark golden coloured liquid which must be diluted for consumption. It is often served neat in a tall glass, with a jug of water and ice cubes, and it is up to the drinker to dilute it to perfection (the recommended dose being 5 parts water to 1 part pastis). The end result is a milky, cloudy coloured liquid, with a strong aniseed taste.

Pastis was originally marketed by Paul Ricard, an entrepreneur marseillais, between the two world wars. (Production of pastis was actually banned under the Vichy regime, but the right to manufacture it was reinstated in 1944.) The Ricard name has since become synonymous with pastis, and it is not unusual to hear locals ordered a "Ricard" in a bar. A second brand, 51 (so named because of the recommended 5-1 dosage), later became equally as popular, and all serious pastis-lovers are faithful to one brand or the other. Several other brand names exist, such as the Corsican Casanis.

It's all a bit hazy, but I vaguely remember a night in a Marseille bar where a friend decided that it was time for my pastis education to begin... This particular bar stocked several varieties of pastis, and so a glass of each was ordered for me, so that I could taste them all and choose my favourite. After the third or fourth glass, they all begin to taste the same, and I couldn't remember the names of the ones that I had already drunk...! Luckily, women in Provence tend to prefer a glass of vin doux, a sweet wine made with the muscat grape, or a glass of local rosé with an ice cube, and so I rarely have to call on my blurry pastis knowledge...

Several traditional Provençal dishes use pastis, including the famous gambas flambées au pastis - fat prawns fried in pastis and garlic, and then set fire to to burn off the alcohol. But perhaps my favourite is a daurade au pastis - Jon Dory marinaded in pastis and baked in the oven (or on the coals of a barbecue).

This recipe couldn't be simpler:

For one person:

 - 1 Jon Dory, cleaned but whole
 - 1 small glass of pastis
 - 3 glasses of water
 - 1 small onion, or 2 shallots
 - A few thin slices of fennel

Marinade the fish in a bowl with the pastis and water for at least 2 hours.
Gently fry the onion and fennel slices in olive oil, until just cooked.
Remove the fish from the marinade, and stuff it with the onion and fennel mix.
Wrap in silver foil or baking parchment, and roast for 20 minutes in a hot oven (200°C) or on a barbecue.

This works equally well with trout, if you can't get JDs (although I do love their grumpy little faces)

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