Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Bouillabaisse (or whatever you want to call it)

When looking for a Bouillabaisse recipe in US, you’ll quickly learn that there is a Bouillabaisse police. If they could give out violation tickets for using the name of this holy soup in vain, they would. You used mussels in your broth – $50! You didn’t fly in the appropriate varieties of fish from the Mediterranean -- $100! Hellmann’s mayo for rouille – what travesty – $200!

Don’t even get me started on what makes authentic Bouillabaisse – I don’t care. If you want, call this soup “Bourride” – another term for Provencal fish soup that is not as common in US and thus less controversial. There are probably as many versions of these soups as there are cooks in Marseille. Three things all Provencal versions have in common are fin fish, star anise, and saffron. I also use leeks, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and a touch of cream. I love this soup in any season. Its amber broth has rejuvenating powers that make a sunny day even brighter and a rainy day more cheerful.

Mediterranean sea bass (a.k.a. branzino) and Sea Bream (a.k.a. orata, dorade, dorado) are my favorite fish to use for this soup. They are small, delicate, and flavorful, and their frames fit easily into a stock pot for the broth. Making fish stock is not nearly as hard as it sounds. If you ask your fishmonger for help, you don’t even have to know how to clean the fish. Tell him that you want the gills and fins removed, the fish scaled, gutted, filleted, and the fillets skinned.  But ask him to give you the fish frames with heads, so that you can make the stock.

For a lazy man’s bouillabaisse – a fantastic and easy dinner – use store bought fish stock and 1 Lb of any white fleshed fish: cod, haddock, halibut, turbot, sole, or flounder.

I serve this soup with toasted baguette slices rubbed with garlic, and topped with rouille – garlicky, red pepper mayo.

Serves 4 as main course

For Rouille (optional):1 red pepper (only half is used for rouille, the rest for soup)
2 garlic cloves, mashed
1/2 cup mayo – Hellmann’s is fine as long as it’s “real”, not low-fat
Salt to taste

For Toasts:
1 baguette
Olive oil for brushing
2-3 whole peeled garlic cloves
pinch of salt

For Fish Stock:2 whole white fleshed fish, 1 Lb each (see above for fish types and preparation instructions)
1/2 cup dry white wine
8 cups water
1 carrot, peeled, cut into 2 inch chunks
1 onion, peeled, cut into 2 inch chunks
1 celery stock, cut into 2 inch chunks
green parts from 1 leek, cut into 2 inch chunks
stocks from 1 fennel bulb without fronds, cut into 2 inch chunks
6 parsley stems without leaves
6 thyme sprigs or 3 rosemary sprigs
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf

For the Soup:1 leek (white and pale green parts only)
1 fennel bulb
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 orange (or red or yellow) pepper plus the half left over from rouille, cut into ½ inch dice
14.5 oz can chopped tomatoes, drained
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 star anise
1/4 tsp saffron threads, crumbled
2 Tbsp cream (optional)
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley

  1. Cut the sides of the pepper off.  Lay out half of them in a single layer on a metal dish lined with foil with their skin up and put under the broiler until black (4-8 minutes depending on the broiler and the distance).  Reserve the remaining pepper for the soup.
  2. Wrap the burnt peppers in foil and let them steam for 10 minutes (this makes them easier to peel).  Uncover and cool until comfortable to handle.  Rub the skin off with your fingers. Chop the pepper coarsely and puree in a food processor or blender with mayo and garlic. Season to taste with salt and cayenne.
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.  
  2. Slice baguette into 1/3 inch thick diagonal slices.  Brush with oil and lay out on a baking sheet in a single layer.  Place in the middle of the oven until the bottom is slightly brown, 12-15 minutes.
  3. Dunk a garlic clove in salt and rub all over toasted baguette.
Fish stock:
  1. In a large stock pot, combine all ingredients. Cover and bring to a boil.
  2. Turn down the heat to medium-low, uncover, and simmer very gently for 45 minutes.  No need to skim the scum.  It will subside and eventually will be removed by straining. 
  3. Take off heat. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. You should end up with about 6 cups of stock.  Let it sit for 10 minutes to give impurities a chance to settle.  
  1. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, then slice 1/4 inch thick crosswise.  Wash chopped leeks in a large bowl of cold water. Let the sand settle for a couple of minutes and then scoop leeks out with a slotted spoon being careful not to disturb the sand on the bottom. If leeks still feel sandy, repeat this process until they are clean.
  2. Cut the fennel bulb in half through the core.  Remove the core and discard.  Slice the bulb pole to pole 1/6 inch thick.
  3. Heat the oil in a large heavy stock pot over medium-low heat. Add leeks, fennel, and a pinch of salt and cook until tender stirring occasionally, 12-15 minutes. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
  4. Return the pot to medium-high. Add the peppers and a pinch of salt and cook until tender stirring occasionally, 5-7 minutes.
  5. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute.
  6. Add tomatoes, and bring the mixture to a boil.
  7. Return leeks to the pot. Add the fish stock (pouring slowly not to disturb impurities on the bottom of the bowl so that they don't get into the soup), star anise, and saffron. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat so that the soup stays at a bare simmer. Add the cream and simmer for 1 minutes.  Season to taste with salt. The soup can be done up to this stage a day in advance, cooled and stored in the fridge.  Cool the soup off to 170F (or warm it up to 170F if you made it ahead).  If you don't have a thermometer, just bring it to a simmer, take off heat and let it sit uncovered for 5 minutes.  
  8. Season the reserved fish fillets with salt and pepper on both sides and add to the soup. Cover the pot.  As soon as the fish starts to flake (about 10 minutes per inch of thickness), serve the soup garnished with parsley accompanied with toasted baguette and rouille.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I cooked this last night. It was very good, although I had to use chicken stock because I didn't have a fish stock handy. So I am sure yours was much better! I also served it over white rice to add more texture and substance. My husband also really liked it. Thanks for posting this recipe!