Typically when I am served a rainbow trout with its tail and head intact, the silvery fish lies on its side, flat on the plate. But here in the mountains high above Nice, France, when my plated fish is placed with great care on the white linen table cloth in front of me, I am stopped mid-sentence. The trout is visually striking; I forget what I am saying and stare into the two eyes staring back at me. As the server makes her rounds laying a truite au bleue before each guest, gasps, nervous giggles and then finally silence encircle the table. My fellow foodies are as transfixed as I.
Two things make this dish stunning. First, the trout is not sitting flat on one side of its body. Instead it is perched upright on the plate as if swimming on the butter lettuce and its tail is curled around a baked tomato. The curved fish fits perfectly on the round dish, which also contains broccoli and a boiled white potato.
The second captivating characteristic is that truite au bleue is blue. Indeed, its deep indigo color is intriguing. How did the chef produce the blue color? Will it make the meat taste different? And by golly, how did they get the fish to curl and sit up on the plate?
Classic Dish of the Alps
Truite au bleue or blue trout is almost a forgotten delicacy, in which I was fortunate enough to partake during a recent Hedonistic Hiking tour. The classic dish of the Alps was not easily found in the backcountry even during its heyday in the 1920s when the likes of Ernest Hemingway and M.F.K. Fisher touted its virtues. “It preserves the true trout flavor better than almost any way of cooking,” plugged Hemingway.
Earlier, when we had arrived at the mountain restaurant in Saint Martin Vésubie, we were shown outside to the back patio and views of the surrounding Maritime Alps. Our hostess exuberantly presented a small, rock-walled reservoir, not quite a pond, filled with nice-sized trout. I did not realize at the time that we were looking at the same trout that would be on our plates within the next few hours. Nor did I understand that I was taking part in a time-tested ritual. If the truite au bleue rite is to be conducted properly, the guest must view the living trout prior to it being served, I later learned.
Truite au Bleue Preparation
The next day, the chef reveals her secrets. “From catch to poach there can only be thirty minutes or the fish won’t wrap into the dish,” she divulges. Evidentially, rigor mortis would set in after that making the fish hold straight and flat on the plate. Because the rustic restaurant farmed its own trout, the fish could be caught, cleaned and set in the pot to poach within the short thirty-minute time frame. The fish was poached in water until the last few minutes, when the chef added red wine vinegar to the water, which produced the blue color. And, no, the blue color did not flavor the meat. I might have to agree with food writer M.F.K. Fisher, who wrote that the fish “was the best I had ever tasted.”
Hotel Restaurant La Bonne Auberge served its memorable truite au bleue with individual decanters of melted butter and clear lemon squeezers.
“I like to offer dishes that you might not try at home,” said Jackie Parsons, co-owner of Hedonistic Hiking. The food, wine and walking expert vets all the restaurants to provide all-inclusive guided, gourmet hiking holidays that open doors to local traditions of France and Italy.
If You Go
Hotel Restaurant La Bonne Auberge
Saint Martin Vésubie, France