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France - Lamprey à la bordelaise

One of many recipes

As a ‘petromyzon marinus’ dating back to the dawn of time, the lamprey belongs to the most primitive group of vertebrates in existence. It has survived for over 530 million years without any significant genetic mutations. With this in mind, it is interesting to note that today we eat the descendants of this anadromous fish, whose origins can reasonably be traced way back to Precambrian times.

The recipe

It might seem slightly tricky and even rather ambitious to set a recipe in stone for lamprey à la bordelaise, as there are many different ways to prepare the fish. It started out as a dish for kings and queens and, over time and generations, it has made its way into middle class kitchens and good restaurants. Every chef and every cook keep close to their chest their best secrets for preparing lamprey.

The basic concept of the recipe for lamprey à la bordelaise is a wine sauce that is transformed into a stew by the addition of the fish’s blood.

For the finer details, you will have to make your own choices! Here is one of many recipes, but feel free to adapt it to suit your taste.

The sauce

Take 75 cl of a fairly robust wine rich in tannins (some people add a glass of port), add a bouquet garni, season to taste and bring to the boil in a cast iron pot before flambéing to reduce the acidity and alcohol content.

In a separate pan, brown:
-    450 g of shallots
-    3 lb of leeks chopped into 5 or 6 cm pieces
-    250 g of lardons

Add these ingredients one by one to the simmering wine, starting with the shallots then the leeks and finally the lardons, without stirring.

Add a small glass of cognac or armagnac to the sauce.

Cover and leave to simmer on a low heat for 2½ hours.

The lamprey

Preparing the lamprey is not the most enjoyable stage of the process:

Hang it by its head and cut the end of the tail to collect the blood in a container into which you will have poured a bit of vinegar or, even better, some cognac.

Quickly immerse the lamprey into boiling water to make it easier to clean.

Hang it again to clean. This involves using a scraper to remove the silt from the skin.

Once the lamprey has been cleaned, cut it into 5 or 6 cm pieces. Cut into the belly part of each piece and take out the intestines and eggs.

Brown the pieces in oil in a pan, then carefully add them to the sauce (if you like, you can add 250 g of carefully scrubbed button mushrooms and 2 or 3 prunes if you feel the sauce is a bit acidic).

Lightly whisk the blood after adding a teaspoon of flour to bind it.

Spread the blood evenly over the sauce without stirring so you don’t crush the leeks.

Simmer on a very low heat for 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat, cover with a lid and leave to cool.

It is better not to eat lamprey immediately after preparing it in this way; keep in a cool place and gently reheat it, preferably in an oven, before serving on a bed of croutons and accompanied by fresh pasta or boiled potatoes.

It can also be potted – connoisseurs say that far from spoiling this dish, storing it for a number of years in a jar develops and matures the flavours and make it tastier than a freshly prepared version.

Bernard Seignat
Chancelier of France / Bailli of Bordeaux