I fell in love with bouillabaisse the summer of 1984 when I first lived in France. I was fifteen years old, spoke maybe two words of French and clearly had no idea what (or how) to order at a quaint restaurant one day. Several of the students traveling in my summer program ordered la bouillabaisse so I played it safe and followed suite. All these years later, I feel certain that no one in our young group had any clue what would arrive to our table for dinner.
We were in the south of France where every home and restaurant boasts their version of the famous French fisherman’s soup. Created by fishermen in the port of Marseilles as a way to feed themselves at the end of the day, this stew is always filled with a generous mix of white and shell fish. Over the centuries the stew has evolved from its humble beginnings to a classic dish that has become synonymous with the sea port of southern France.
While ingredients and techniques are varied, classic bouillabaisse always includes a mix of cooked fish, shell fish and vegetables, orange peel and pastis, a popular anise-flavored liqueur. In the States you can find pastis bottled as its brand Pernod. If you’ve never tried pastis you are in for a treat. It tastes like licorice and is absolutely delightful on hot summer days. Or cold, snowy days. Or in French fish stew. Or…
Don’t worry too much about the type of fish you put in the stew. And, don’t let cost deter you from trying this recipe either. I fully intended to buy bass and halibut, but suffered such sticker shock I had to change plans. Talk to your fish monger!!! Tell him what you are making and he’ll gladly suggest appropriate fish for you. I ended up with cod and swordfish from Whole Foods and saved a bundle! Just make sure you stick to firm white fish and nothing too oily (no salmon or tuna!). You want nice chunks of fish in the bouillabaisse.
4 Tbs olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 fennel bulb, chopped
4 small new potatoes, quartered
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 cups white wine
1 can (28 oz) plum or stewed tomatoes
1 quart fish stock
1 tsp saffron threads
1 lb large shrimp
1 1/2 lbs mixed filleted, skinned fish such as halibut, sea bass, cod, rockfish, sole, John Dory, monk fish (I used cod and swordfish)
3 Tbs pastis
1 tsp grated orange peel
Rouille for garnish
3-4 Tbs water
3/4 cup bread crumbs (use bread from the baguette you must serve with bouillabaisse)
3 – 4 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
3 Tbs olive oil
Heat olive oil in large casserole or stockpot. Add onions, fennel, potatoes and saute until the onions begin to brown, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper while cooking.
Add wine and scrape up the brown bits. Add tomatoes, fish stock and saffron to the pot.
Look at that homemade fish stock! YUM.
Bring everything to a boil, then lower heat and simmer uncovered for 15 – 20 minutes.
Add all the fish, bring slowly back to a boil. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let pot sit covered for 5 more minutes. If there are any mussels that aren’t open, discard them.
Add pastis and orange zest. Add salt & pepper if desired. Garnish with Rouille.
There is an old French saying bouillabaisse without rouille is like Marseilles without sunshine. You must make this spicy topping for your bouillabaisse, it’s delicious.
Remove crust and tear bread into tiny pieces. In a small bowl, pour water over bread crumbs.
Using a mortar and pestle, mash garlic to a paste with the sea salt and cayenne pepper.
Add wet bread crumbs and continue mashing to combine with paste. Add oil in a slow stream, mashing and stirring until well combined and fluffy.
Top bouillabaisse with rouille and serve with a crunchy baguette! Bon Appetit!