1972 was a year that started out with such promise. Bradford College, both my wife Laura’s alma mater and employer, announced a new program specializing in urban studies. They recruited and hired a Director who spent a few months formulating the curriculum. What he came up with is that the one-year program would be based in London and would include field studies in various European cities, including Amsterdam, Prague, and Edinburgh. He also announced open positions for faculty and an administrative assistant. Laura got the job, and I got to tag along as co-houseparent for the students. We were of the ripe old age of 24.
We had a a free apartment, an American-sized salary, school vacations, and “required” trips to exotic European cities. It seemed too good to be true.
The first cracks in the veneer of perfection, could be seen within 48 hours of our arrival in London. The entire program was housed in an elegant Georgian Row House. Elegant, yes, but convenient by American standards, not so much? The toilets didn’t work like those in America, the bacon served for breakfast tasted different, the only coffee was instant … the litany of complaints escalated to a clamor, then a barrage. These were Ugly American adolescents throwing tantrums. Not to worry, the program Director assured us. These are normal issues of transition. The kids will adjust.
Then a week in, a bombshell. The Director, our fearless leader, resigned abruptly. The reason, apparently was domestic, not professional, but no matter … A week later he and his family were gone. The mantle of authority was passed down to his newly-hired associate Dean, a freshly-minted law school grad, a 25 year-old barely a month into his first job. Moreover, in subsequent weeks it became apparent that he was sleeping with one of the students. That didn’t help.
This made the students, already immature and spoiled, hysterical. The first semester can only be described as a cluster fuck. Ah, but the prospect of the Christmas break offered hope. Finally we could get away from the little bastards. We planned elaborately. We would be taking the overnight boat-train across the channel to spend time in Heidelberg, Germany and the Black Forest before heading back to the Alsatian region of France where we would celebrate New Year’s Eve in Strasbourg, France. I even knew what we would be having for dinner, a dish I read about in Gourmet Magazine called Truite au Bleu (Blue Trout), in which the trout is so fresh that it practically quivers on your plate.
The day of departure came at long last. The channel crossing was rough. We connected up with the train and an overnight ride to Germany. It was a noisy, clattering, uncomfortable sleep and we awoke to find that all my money had been stolen. “Roma” said the conductor. “It happens all the time.” Now we faced an uncomfortable choice: whether to soldier on, traveling as paupers, or returning home with our tails between our legs. Our return passage was already paid for, so we wouldn’t get stuck, so we opted for door number one- soldier on.
I can’t say it was our best trip ever, but it wasn’t our worst, either. I remember a sunny afternoon in the Black Forest when the entire town seemed to be cavorting on a frozen lake, but also some uncomfortable hitchhiking experiences. But we survived and found ourselves in Strasbourg, France on New Year’s Eve scheduled to return to London the next day. We counted our pennies and calculated that we had just enough to have a blow-out New Year’s Eve meal, before limping home. Truite au Bleu, here we come!
We spent the afternoon giddy with anticipation. It was a gray, gloomy day, but we happily roamed the streets of Strasbourg, scrutinizing the posted menus of the town’s many restaurants. We found at least half a dozen that met our dual criteria of being affordable and serving truite au bleu.
That evening we dressed in our finery (relatively speaking) and headed off for what was bound to be the best meal of our life. When we reached our first-choice bistro, however, we were dismayed to see the normal menu replaced with a sheet touting “Menu spécial: La Fête de la Saint Sylvestre”. The offerings were extensive and the price expensive, far too rich for our razor-thin budget.
Disappointed, but undeterred, we went to our second-choice restaurant only to have the experience repeated, then again at the third, fourth, and fifth. Not a single restaurant that we passed was serving its normal menu. Now we were taking body blows, and dropping our guards further. Two hours later, we were tired, hungry, footsore and beyond discouraged. All the small stores were closed, as well, so there wasn’t even the option of buying some cheese and a baguette. Finally, we threw in the towel.
“Let’s go to the train station. They must be open and their cafe can’t be so bad. After all, this is France.” Alas, while the trains still ran, the cafe was closed so that everyone could go celebrate La Fucking Fête de la Saint Sylvestre. We turned around to walk back to our hotel, neither of us speaking, tails between our legs. Along the way we had to have salt rubbed in our wounds by walking by our initial choice restaurant for our New Year’s Eve feast. The joint was warm and hopping, a Monet of French pleasure. But wait …
La Fête de la Saint Sylvestre menu was gone, replaced by the original. In our high school French we asked the Maitre d’ what was going on. As best we could understand, the special menu for La Fête was served for a single setting, then the regular service was restored.
As the waiter turned to show us to our table, we realized that both a New Year and the best meal of our lives were about to begin.
A Recipe for Truite au Blue
- 2 Tbsp. Butter
- 1 x Shallot of scallion, chopped
- 1 x Rib celery w/leaves/minced
- 1 x Carrot, thinly sliced
- 1 x Dressed trout, head and all
- Â Â But cut into chunks
- 1 Tbsp. Salt
- 6 x Peppercorns
- 1/2 tsp Thyme
- 2 Tbsp. Chopped fresh parsley
- 1 x Bay leaf
- 3 c. Water
- 1 c. White wine or possibly dry vermouth
- 3 Tbsp. Tarragon vinegar
- 5 whl 10″ trout
- This dish is basically trout poached in a vegetable court bouillon flavored with a cut-up trout. It is a lovely way to offer the delicacy of trout, and can be either a fish course, if the trout are 6-8 inchers, or possibly a main course if the trout are 10-11 inchers. As a fish course for a game dinner serve the trout cool (in an aspic if you wish-see below).
- In a big saucepan or possibly deep skillet with lid heat the butter and saute/fry the vegetables till the shallot is just soft.
- Add in the single cut-up trout and the remaining ingredients (except whole trout), bring to a bubble, and simmer for ten min or possibly so.
- Add in the dressed whole trout, cover, and simmer slowly for about 20-min.
- If the dish is a main course, remove the fish, drain, and serve immediately with melted butter and lemon juice or possibly herb butter.
- If the dish is just a fish course, allow the fish to cold in the liquor and serve the liquid removed trout with a slice of lemon.