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, and filleted. 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 baguette slices rubbed with garlic, brushed with butter, toasted to a light crisp, and topped with rouille – garlicky, red pepper mayo.
Serves 4 as main course
For Rouille (optional):
1 red pepper
3 garlic cloves, mashed
1 cup mayo – Hellmann’s is fine as long as it’s “real”, not low-fat
Salt to taste
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
1 onion, peeled
1 celery stock
6 parsley stems without leaves
6 thyme sprigs or 3 rosemary sprigs
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
For the Soup:
1 leek, finely chopped (white and pale green parts only)
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp oil
1 orange (or red or yellow) pepper, cut into ½ inch dice
1 cup chopped tomatoes from a can, drained
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 star anise
1/4 tsp saffron threads, crumbled
2 Tbsp cream (optional)
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
- Roast a whole pepper over the flames of a gas burner or on a grill turning as soon as each side blackens. When the pepper is completely black, put it in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let cool 30 minutes.
- Rub the skin off the pepper and remove the seeds. Chop it into course pieces and puree in a food processor with mayo and garlic. Season to taste with salt.
- In a large stock pot, combine fish frames and heads (reserving fillets for later), wine, water, carrot, onion and celery. Cover and bring to a boil.
- Turn down the heat to medium, uncover, and simmer 20 minutes skimming the foam that rises to the top.
- When the foam stops rising, add parsley stems and thyme sprigs, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Simmer gently uncovered 20 more minutes. Take off heat. Strain in a colander pressing hard on the solids. You should end up with about 6 cups of stock.
- Wash chopped leeks in a large bowl of cold water. Let the sand settle for 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.
- Melt butter and oil in a large heavy stock pot over medium-low heat. Add leeks and a pinch of salt and cook until leeks are tender stirring occasionally, 10-12 minutes. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
- Return the pot to medium-high. Add the peppers and cook until tender stirring occasionally, 5-7 minutes.
- Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute.
- Add tomatoes, season with salt, and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Return leeks to the pot. Add 6 cups of fish stock, star anise, and saffron. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat so that the soup stays at a bare simmer. Add 2 Tbsp kosher salt (or 1 Tbsp table salt), taste and correct seasoning. The soup can be done up to this stage a day in advance, cooled and stored in the fridge. Reheated on the stove before finishing.
- Season the reserved fish fillets with salt and pepper on both sides and add to the soup. Simmer uncovered until the fish is almost opaque in the center when you separate the flakes with a fork, 8-10 minutes per inch of thickness. Remove the fish from soup and peel off its skin. Divide the fish among 4 large bowls.
- Stir the cream into the soup and simmer 1 minute. Take off heat and pour into bowls over fish. Garnish with parsley and serve with toasted baguette and rouille.