Serious Eats: Recipes

French in a Flash: Purple Potato-Crusted Trout a la Francaise

"The key to dressing like a French woman is to remember that every woman is a sun in the blue sky. Clouds only diminish; moons only eclipse."

For all the finery of Paris's Baroque buildings, for all the playful hues of Provence's cloths, and for all the whimsy of Deauville's striped beach umbrellas, beauty, in the eye of the French beholder, is very much about sparse simplicity. Think of an iconic Haussmannian boulevard: it is, after all, just a straight line. But with a smattering of perfect poplars here, a streetlamp here, and several overhanging balconies there-- now c'est Paris!

French women dress themselves very much the same was as Parisian architects dress their city. Hair is rarely overdone, but instead lies lank and sleek, or in a fresh chignon. Makeup is minimal. Even a svelte body is sparse, and needs little adornment; clothes are tailored and simple. What makes the French woman remarkable is her ability to place the poplar, the streetlight, the balcony to her advantage--her ability to accessorize.

A rose pink pout, a cerise red shoe, an Aurora-hued silk scarf set just so to frame the face--these are secrets à la française. The key to dressing like a French woman is to remember that every woman is a sun in the blue sky. Clouds only diminish; moons only eclipse. Just the winking twinkling freckle of a cheeky daytime star could make the scene any lovelier.

When I was a little girl, my Mémé lived just a few blocks away from me in a smallish apartment. She always kept an enormous tin of sugared butter cookies. After I ate too many of them, and she was on the phone with someone deserving of enthusiastic exclamations, I would wander into her closet. I would climb up to stare into the velvet-lined drawer where she kept her costume jewelry. And one time, I found an enormous pair of "emerald" earrings. I clipped them onto my ears, and grinned into the mirror despite the pinch. Then I smiled. I marched out into the kitchen where Mémé put her hand over the mouth of the receiver. Her eyes lit up.

"Attends, cherie. Je te retelerphonerai." She hung up and knelt down to me, my long brown hair flowing over my shoulders in the unkempt fashion of Niagara Falls, my cat-print tee shirt cascaded over my black leggings past my knobby knees. Mémé's lips pressed into a thin line as she considered. Silently, she led me back to the closet, where she handed me a small black tee shirt. I changed. She swept my hair back into a sleek side chignon, and stepped back. There I stood, dark hair, dark eyes, dark everything. From my little ears gleamed two fiery emeralds. There was no competition; I had simply shown the emeralds, and myself, en valeur. No one would have said I was just playing dress up with costume jewelry.

Later that day, Mémé took me shopping. This was the era of little girl outfits that came replete with skirt, top, and headband. Mémé liked this outfit, but that same thin line had formed itself from her lips. Before I could protest, she had snapped the plastic stick that held the headband to the top, perched it on the hanger of another outfit, and replaced it with one that she had marauded from a neighboring outfit.

Before I could open my mouth to protest, she said sternly, "It must be correct."

This dish makes use of those secrets à la française--in fact, it is served à la française, which means with a lemon butter sauce. To me, trout, my favorite fish, is like that sleek, simple French woman, that bright sun in the blue sky. Here, I dress the trout with unusual chips of purple potatoes overlapping like shingles and roast it. For that last touch, that final spritz of perfume, I spoon on a lightened version of sauce à la française which is flavored with curls of lemon zest and whole leaves of parsley. The lemon brightens the fish, the potatoes add texture, the parsley gives freshness. They mettent le poisson en valeur--that is to say, they show the fish to advantage. And that, I believe, is correct.

About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way. She also writes the The Secret Ingredient series for Serious Eats.

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