Bouillabaisse, a Personal Take
France’s soul is present in every permutation of Bouillabaisse.
There are many recipes for this dish and many ‘schools of’ versions.
I give you mine.
While enjoying the cachet of elegance and accomplishment, nothing about it is a stretch of culinary accomplishment.
The essence of the Bouillabaisse is the base, a gathering of vegetables (red bell pepper, leeks, celery, serrano chili, fresh garlic, and waxy potatoes,) and seasonings, (olive oil, fresh parsley and/or basil, orange zest, tomato paste, salt, fennel, bay leaves, thyme, and a careful measure of saffron.)
Look at the list.
None of it is difficult although it is a lot of detail.
We’ll process these in a food chopper to a very small dice and in a frying pan soften them together.
What a smell. Goodness!
Honestly, this is all there is to it.
But hardly difficult for the most delicious fish dinner on earth.
A dish that loves to be made in quantity.
And the leftovers more delicious than the original.
Oops! Sorry. Forgot the fish.
Shopping for the fish is the fun part of the recipe.
Fish is expensive.
This is not an economy meal.
It’s a dinner for a celebratory event.
This is America.
We celebrate everything.
Let’s assume we’re cooking for six, the recipe posted in the blog.
Look for a truly terrific fishmonger, i.e. offering a good variety of fresh fish and a willingness to scrape, cut, wash, and chop small quantities of a large variety.
What to buy?
Different cities in France have different traditions, based on the available fish.
Different families in the different cities have idiosyncratic recipes.
While, in fact, two or three fish are considered de rigueur for the true Bouillabaisse, even these fish are not always available and the French still make their Bouillabaisse without them.
What do I choose? Here in Boston we have a very good city for fresh seafood.
For drama of presentation, I always include 3 rock crabs, half per diner. They look terrific on the serving platter.
For their salty flavor, I always use a dozen little neck clams.
Conch, langoustines, heads-on shrimp, and other tasty and attractive shellfish also attract me.
But the meal is primarily about fresh fish. Purists would say 'exclusively.'
One pound per person, using six varieties of a pound each. Which means the fishmonger must cut each pound into six equal pieces. The fishmonger's scaling, cuttings, cleaning, and washing is critical, or we will end up with four times the work as necessary.
So we have the base made, and the fish on hand.
We’re ready to rock. Or should I say, ‘Bouillabaisse,’ which means to boil and then to simmer.
Buy 6 pounds of fresh fish and a bunch of shellfish, including 18 little neck clams and two or three live rock crabs. Maybe 6 dramatic-looking heads-on shrimp.
Boil 18 ounces of waxy potatoes and mash. Set it aside.
2oz red bell pepper
½oz serrano chili
½ medium head of garlic
¾ cup fresh parsley and/or basil
zest of a large orange
2 TB Tomato paste
½ t each of dry fennel, bay leaves, and thyme
Count them: 7 pistils (strands) of saffron or equivalent.
Combine all ingredients in a food chopper and turn them into a paste.
Pour the contents into a fry pan and heat until softened.
Add the mashed potato and mix in.
The base is done.
(Prepare a garnish of chopped basil Italian parsley, and lemon zest to have ready to sprinkle onto the platter of fish when preparing the platter for service.)
3 quarts, or 12 cups, or 196 ounces of water plus
8oz dry white wine and
3oz orange juice
Bring the liquids to a boil.
(Note that I don’t use a fish stock. No need. But if you want to, make the stock with pieces of fish, like carcasses, that we not going to eat; and use the stock to replace the water.)
Note: If conch and/or fresh octopus are included in our cache of shellfish, they need a twenty minute cook before anything else is added to the pot.
Then pull the conch out of their shells and slice them and the octopus into rounds, returning these to the pot.
Add the base and the other shellfish and simmer for seven minutes.
Bring the broth (the water and base) to a boil and then, dividing the fish roughly in half, add all the firmer fish. Return the soup to a boil and reduce to a simmer for three minutes.
Bring the pot to a boil and add the remainder of the fish.
Bring the soup to a boil and reduce to a simmer, cooking the pot for seven more minutes.
Remove the fish to a warmed serving platter, garnish with chopped parsley and basil and serve, following it out to the dining room table with the hot soup.
Use a kitchen spoon with holes to remove the fish to a warmed platter.
Bring the platter and the hot soup to the table.
Guests will create their own soup plates.
We’ll have a heck of a time getting them to stop eating.
Halfway through dinner, the server should consider returning the pot of soup to the stove top for a reheat.
The next day, I blend the remainder of the Bouillabaisse in a food chopper and serve it hot as a lunch or dinner.
So really delicious,