Bouillabaisse When You Want to Be 1000 Miles Away
Our original kitchen best friend, Julia Child, was a legend for one episode: her Bouillabaisse TV show. Child demystified a recipe that seemed, at least to her American audience, like it was strictly for the Cordon Bleu graduate.
No! It’s easy. You can use most any collection of fresh lean fish (not mackerel or tuna) and shell fish that happen to be for sale at the market or the pier.
More important, the element you cannot cheat on, is to make real fish stock from lobster shells or a big fish head. SLAM! Throw it a pot with water, cover the fish, and salt, and let it boil.
Yes, you can buy fish stock. And you could use clam juice.
Like many great things, this recipe was originally a cheap workingman’s meal. It still is, especially if you fish yourself!
Bouillabaisse became part of the French food-mind on the docks of Marseille. But a stew like this has been made everywhere that people pull their living from the sea. Every pot is made from leftovers, the fish that couldn’t be sold at the docks by the end of the day. The best stock is made from a fish head and bones that would otherwise go to the pier tomcat.
Since Julia’s 1960s demonstration, there’ve been some nice kitchen inventions that make the process even more quick and easy, the amateur’s friend.
The Tools You Set Out With
I am providing links to these tools, so you can look at a picture — I don’t care what brand you use. You may have these already, just get them on board.
Fish filet knife
Deep large stock pot, that holds about 10-12 quarts
For the rouille:
One 3” piece of French baguette, cut into small dice
3 tablespoons water
2 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
For the bouillabaisse:
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 leeks, thinly sliced, the Pepin way
2 onions, cut into small dice
2 fennel bulbs, cut into small dice. Save the pretty fronds for the end, they are the garnish
6 garlic cloves— 3 of them coarsely chopped. Leave the others whole.
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with its liquid
2 bay leaves
Pinch of saffron threads
3 qts. fish stock (basically boil fish bones) OR clam juice. All delicious!
8 1/2”-thick baguette slices, cut on the bias
4 Yukon Gold potatoes (2 pounds), peeled and cut into smallish cubes, about 1/2”
1 lb. halibut, cut into 1” pieces
1 lb. mussels
12 clams, scrubbed (get the smallest and most flavorful)
1 lb. sole or bass, cut into 1-inch pieces (something to contrast with the halibut)
1 lb. scallops
1 lb. shrimp (about 15)
1 lb. cod cut into 1-inch pieces
Make the rouille:
In a food processor, sprinkle the diced bread with the water and let stand until the water is absorbed, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic, cayenne and salt and pulse until the bread and garlic are coarsely chopped.
With the machine on, drizzle in the olive oil and process until the rouille is smooth. Pour in a bowl and refrigerate.
Make the soup:
In a large, deep stock pot, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
Add the leeks, onion, fennel and chopped garlic and cook over moderate heat until translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and cook until they begin to break down, about 5 minutes.
Add the bay leaves, saffron, and pastis and bring to a boil.
Add the fish stock and bring to a simmer.
Cook over low heat until the vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes.
Discard the bay leaves.
Processing and Filtering:
In a food processor, pour in a couple cups of the soup. Watch out not to burn yourself. Make sure all the lids are snapped on tight before you press “ON” and the soup starts spinning.
Pulse the vegetables and broth to a coarse puree. Do in batches.
OR! Easy-peasy, use an immersion hand blender right in the pot. (I switched to these after a couple of flying boiling soup accidetns in my Cuisinart).
Strain all your stock through a fine sieve, over a big bowl, to get the solids out. Or, use a wire skinner strainer. Don’t fuss over whether it’s perfectly clear, because it will taste great nonetheless.
Pour the now clear-ish (or clearer) broth back into the stock pot.
Intermission to make the toasts:
Preheat the broiler.
Arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet and broil them on both sides until the slices are golden brown around the edges. You could use a toaster, too.
Rub each slice with the remaining whole garlic cloves and drizzle lightly with olive oil, or spray them with olive oil spray.
Back to the soup pot:
Add the potatoes and cayenne pepper to the broth and bring to a simmer.
Cook over moderately high heat until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes
Season with salt and pepper
Add the halibut.
Add the mussels and clams, cover and cook over moderate heat until they just begin to open, about 3 minutes.
Add sole (or bass, or eel or whatever!), cook for 3 minutes.
Add the scallops and shrimp, cook for 3 minutes, until they are no longer translucent.
Add the cod, (or your other favorite third lean fish) and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until it’s flaky.
Serve the soup:
Set a baguette toast in each of the eating bowls. Be sure the bowls are wide and pretty shallow!
Ladle the fish and broth over the toasts.
Top each bowl with a big spoon of the rouille.
Garnish with dill, squeeze with lemon, and heaven awaits!
Love you, Julia!
My recipe is very similar to hers — you can’t go wrong. Every time you make Le B, it’s a little different.
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