on a brisk summer evening with the sunlight just softening into amber, my husband and i turned left away from the hustle and bustle of gare du nord station, and wandered down a quiet alley, sandwiched between several larger streets. things did not look promising. rue de belzunce was under much construction, and it felt as if we had either gotten lost (again) or were headed to a ramshackle demolition site.
chez michel appeared, like an oasis, at the end of the block. cheery ruffled valances and patina-ed glass greeted us. it was the prototypical french bistro, except that it hadn’t gone out of its way to age its mirrors, dent its wood paneling, or import its dining chairs in a very complete effort to be a replica of the perfect french bistro. no, it was the real thing, and more so than taking our first step off the plane into the streets of paris or biting into a pain au chocolat at laduree, chez michel transported us to a different place. to us, we could very well have been sitting in the perfect french bistro at the end of an infinitely long highway running through the hitchhiker’s galaxy.
chef thierry breton serves classic breton dishes, the most spectacular of which was the fish soup, served with a quart size pitcher on the side (because they knew you would ask for seconds). hearty, velvety, oozing of umami. i would have to agree with another’s observation that the soup is a “life altering” experience. it carried me to morbihan coastline. i could imagine myself a fisherman wizened with the wisdom of the sea, safely ensconced in my cottage by nightfall, listening to the waves lap up against the shore, slurping slowly a hot bowl of fish soup as the whisps of rising steam warmed my cheeks.
since coming back from paris, i’ve been thinking about that soup. a lot. i haven’t been able to replicate it yet, but i think i’ve come up with something vaguely reminiscent. i keep hoping that one day, chef breton will speak and divulge his fish soup making process to the world, and until then i’ll keep tinkering away. . .
Rue de Belzunce Fish Soup (a recipe, like the street, very much under construction)
Olive oil ¼ cup
Red Onions 2 medium ones, diced
Garlic 5-6 cloves, mashed
Fresh Parsley ¼ cup, chopped
Fresh Thyme 1 tbsp
Bay Leaf 1 dried leaf
Potatoes ½ lb, peeled and cubed
Saffron 1 tsp
Tomatoes 2 lbs, peeled and chopped
Fish 4 to 5 lbs (i used cleaned fish fillets; cod, snapper, hake, perch. any white fish that isn’t too oily should work)
Fish stock 2 quarts
Pernod 1/2 cup
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large pot over low heat. Add onion, garlic, herbs, potatoes, then tomatoes until lightly browned and softened.
- Pour in stock. Bring to a boil and then allow to simmer for 30-40 minutes until the soup has been reduced by 1/3.
- Bring the soup base to a boil again, and then add large, whole fish first and boil for 5 minutes. Then add the smaller more delicate fish and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
- Pour in pernod and sprinkle in saffron. Allow the soup to simmer for 30 more seconds.
- If you have an immersion blender, puree the soup in the pot until it’s mostly smooth but with tiny chunks. If you don’t have an immersion blender, wait for the soup to cool and then puree with a blender or food processor.
- Flavour with salt and pepper, and serve with a few croutons and finely chopped parsley.
Address: 1o rue de belzunce, 10e (1oth arrondissement, Metro: Gare du Nord)
Prices: fixed price menu 35€; supplements additional
a gallery of some other delights we enjoyed at chez michel: