Pardon de St Yves
Briny fresh oysters, crawling torteaux crabs, artichokes, new pink garlic, tiny fragrant strawberries and baby potatoes! Long cool evenings, roses bursting with flowers and the washed salty air of the wild Brittany coast. All of this and the 704th commemoration of the death of the Breton Saint Erwan (Yves in French), the patron Saint of lawyers.
In honor of St Yves, the village of Tréquier was festively decorated with yellow Acacia flowers, Calla Lilies and lots of Breton flags. Born in Tréguier1253, St Yves was a contemporary of Dante. He studied law and was canonized in 1347 by Pope Clement. Every year, the third Sunday of May is a celebration of this man who was a voice for the poor and destitute, simple people embroiled in everyday disputes and legal difficulties. There is an air of excitement in the village as a distant music starts to fill the air. Soon a procession to the cathedral begins: first, a line of blaring bagpipes, then lawyers dressed in their traditional black robes and white neck pieces, then the relic of St Yves himself carried in an ornate gold box, and finally celebrants dressed in traditional Breton outfits. All in all, up to 10,000 people attend the festival to honor St Yves and his commitment to jurisprudence and the integrity and power of the law.
Our little Maison de Granit was host to 10 guests including three well-known writers, Alice Kaplan, Cindy Blake and Roger Grenier. I decided to make a special dinner for everybody. We started with steamed artichokes with a yogurt, mayonnaise and garlic dip while we enjoyed a Vouvray pétillant from Alias. I made a bar en croûte de sel: a salt-crusted sea bass! A whole fish is completely sealed in a crust of Brittany salt and then baked! This dramatic way of cooking yields a tender, flaky and exceptionally moist and delicious meat. I made a beurre rouge sauce and served it with new potatoes, carrots and fresh peas tossed with lots of Brittany butter and sea salt. We drank a red Loire Saumur-Champigny from Filliatreau. Then we had a fresh crisp green salad with an assortment of cheeses: a Camembert, a local goat cheese and a Roquefort. I always forget how delicious and perfectly ripe the cheeses are when I get to France! For dessert, a strawberry crème fraîche tart and finally some honey chocolate truffles and a local eau de vie to finish the evening!
The next day was a perfect Brittany day! Big fluffy but friendly clouds against a washed blue sky with temperatures that demanded a sweater. We drove over to Finistère, the “end of the earth.” The north coast on this wild part of Brittany has rugged windswept cliffs and great sweeping views of the blue, clear Channel waters. We hiked four hours and then stopped at a friendly little café where we all had a galette complet, the classic buckwheat crepe with ham, cheese and a fried egg. We washed it down with the traditional cidre brut served in a ceramic pitcher with cups. Tired and satisfied, we went back home and made a cozy fire. We discussed going to visit the cairn de Barnenez, the oldest monument in all of Europe, but that is another story.
What I was reading on my last trip:
French Lessons by Alice Kaplan.
A wonderful memoir of a young woman’s journey from the suburbs of Minneapolis to a life immersed in the French language and culture.
Rinse the fish and pat dry with paper towels. Open the fish and lay the bay leaf, thyme and a few lemon slices in the cavity
In a large bowl, lightly beat the egg white with a fork
Add all of the salt and stir with your hands, adding droplets of water as necessary to make a rough “snow”
Spread a layer of the salt on a huge cookie sheet. Place the fish on top and then spread and pack the remaining salt over the fish. The fish should be completely encased in the salt
Bake in a preheated 400 oven for 35-40 minutes or until the salt is rock hard
Remove from the oven and let rest while you make the sauce
Crack the salt crust open with a hammer or the back of a heavy French knife and peel away. Next peel away the skin of the fish and then flake off the delicious meat in large chunks pulling out the bones as you go
In a heavy saucepan, put everything but the butter and cream. Over medium heat, reduce until it is a pasty red mixture. Pull out the bay leaf
Over very low heat, whisk in the butter one piece at a time whisking constantly until all the butter is absorbed and you have a creamy sauce
Add salt and pepper as needed and serve