"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.
- 4 1/2-pound filets of trout
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 4 medium or 8 small purple potatoes, sliced chip fine on a mandolin
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1/4 cup whole fresh parsley leaves
A Note on Some Ingredients
- I love the thin, flakey filet of trout for this dish, but you could use any flakey white fish. Tilapia or snapper would be especially nice.
- If you cannot find purple potatoes, sometimes called Peruvian purple potatoes or blue potatoes, just use a simple new potato instead.
Preheat the oven to 500°F.
Rub both sides of each filet with just shy of 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Spray a foil-lined baking sheet with nonstick spray, and lay the filets skin-side down on the pan. Tile the top of the trout with the slices of purple potato, overlapping them like shingles. Season the potato with salt and pepper as well, and drizzle with the remaining oil.
Roast for 12 minutes, then broil for 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the lemon brown butter sauce. Melt the butter in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Allow the butter to begin to foam and froth, and finally it will begin to turn golden around the edges. Once this starts to happen, the butter will burn very quickly, so you don't want to walk away. Just when the butter turns golden, take the pan off the heat, stand back, and add the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, and add the lemon zest, and parsley.
Present the fish on a platter, and spoon some of the sauce à la française on top.