Northern France Tourism : official website

The seaman and his boat go out fishing off the Opal Coast

Good fishing in the North Sea

In former times,the Iceland fishermen set off in the early morning mists, leaving their women and children on the quayside, to plough the seas of the globe. Painters of the Etaples School knew how to sketch these seamen with their faces weathered by the sea spray and the anxiety on the drawn features of the women expectantly awaiting their return. Nowadays, fishing is better organised, on the one hand large trawlers bring 240 000 tonnes of fish to Capécure, a district of Boulogne-sur-Mer given over to their handling. On the other, fishermen continue to embark daily in small boats to bring in fresh fish. On stalls right by where the boats have landed their catch, it is sold off, above all in the ports of Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne, the leading European centre for processing sea produce.

Black/white photo. Two sailors at sea getting ready to fish.
  • At dawn, the fishermen leave port, they will return when the nets and creels are full
  • © Musée de la marine d'Etaples

The smoking process, a guaranteed technique

Drying, salting and smoking are how we preserve the fish from our coast. During the smoking process, as its name indicates, the herring is cured by smoking it after it has been soaked a while in salt water. This ancient traditional technique still exists, JC David, one of Europe's oldest businesses in the industry at Boulogne sur Mer proudly uses it in accordance with their motto "quality first". Haddock, salmon, mackerel, and halibut have joined herring in the ranks of approved smoked fish and are appreciated just as much. Nowadays some businesses are modifying this process and sometimes use strong heating and add flavourings. 

A woman in a white and yellow apron filleting herring
  • The herring being filleted before it is salted
  • © Anne-Sophie Flament

"Herring" is king

Dubbed king or prince, herring, the legendary fish closely associated with the history of fishing in the Nord-Pas de Calais, enjoys honorific titles. Long ago, the herring trade was as important as the spice trade, the port of Boulogne sur Mer is famous because of it. Each year its prestige is further enhanced by traditional events: The "Fête du Hareng et de la Beurrière" at Boulogne sur Mer, the "Hareng Roi" at Etaples, the "Fête de la Matelote" at Grand-Fort Philippe, the "Icelanders" at Gravelines, the "Flobart" at Wissant,and all the others associated with the sea. On these occasions, people eat as much of it as they want, as well as all other kinds of seafood. In Dunkirk, the mayor throws if from the top of the bell tower, during the merrymaking - an enduring tradition.

a local girl in period costume serves grilled herring
  • A pretty local girl in period costume serves grilled herring at the "Harang Roi" festival at Etaples
  • © Pascal Morès

A fish on the plate

The sea is also a vast gastronomic reserve and offers many recipes. Herring en papillote, fish Waterzooi and above all Boulogne Caudière, the sailors' typical dish. But if you are thinking of going shrimping along the shore, first be sure of the times of the tides. Catch it wriggling in your net and without hesitation blanch it and remove its crust before you enjoy it and remember that as croquettes, shrimps are eaten over and over again. 

Close up of 2 sizes of shrimping net
  • When shrimping, best choose a big net
  • © Eric desaunois

Recipe for La Caudière

With a taste of the salt sea, Caudière originates with sailors fishing along the coast off Boulogne who prepared the recipe beside their boats. In a soup or hotpot, dependant upon who is in charge of the cooking, it makes a perfect match with potatoes. Choose Ratte du Touquet potatoes, their flesh is firm and tasty.

Close up of a fishing boat in the port of Boulogne
  • Fishing boat in port, Boulogne-sur-Mer
  • © Eric desaunois






45 mn



onions (3 or 4)
small firm fleshed potatoes (1.2 kg)
garlic (2 cloves)
Bay leaves
Fish: conger eel, sole, turbot, gurnard(1.5 kg)
dry white wine (1.25 litres)
mussels (1 litre)


• Thinly slice the onions; crush the garlic
• Peel and wash the potatoes (choose firm fleshed ones that will not mush on cooking)
• Next prepare the fish: scale, gut, wash, dry then chop them into large chunksremove the maximum of bone
• Put the onions and garlic in a large pot, add the potatoes, parsley, thyme, Bay leaves; cover the fish chunks
• Add the litre of wine, just enough to cover
• Add salt and pepper, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 1/2 hour
• Meanwhile scrape and wash the mussels, open them with the remaining white wine and pepper
• Remove the shells whilst cooking and keep them warm
• Filter the water used for cooking the mussels; pour it on the soup
•When the fish is ready (25 to 30 min), remove it and place gently with the mussels; let the "Caudière" continue cooking on high for 15 min
• Before serving, away from the cooker, add to the soup the egg yolk previously mixed with fresh cream and immediately pour it over fish and mussels

Fish with mussels broth in an attractive dish at a restaurant.
  • The Caudière is eaten from an attractive dish.
  • © Eric studio Comité de promotion Nord-Pas de Calais - caudière

The Caudière, our sailors' dish