Monday, December 29, 2008


(French Provençal seafood stew)

Bouillabaisse is one of the great dishes of French Provençal cuisine. . Making it is actually fairly simple. The key is using top-notch ingredients. Ideally bouillabaisse is made with rascasse, an ugly fish found only in the Mediterranean. But feel free to make it with any combination of fish and seafood available to you. Try to use as many different types as possible, as it improves the flavor.

6-8 servings

Olive oil -- 1/4 cup
Onion, chopped -- 1
Celery, chopped -- 2 ribs
Garlic, crushed -- 4 cloves
Fish heads and bones (see variations) -- 2-3 pounds
Tomatoes, chopped -- 1 pound
Fennel bulb, or dried fennel seed (optional) --1 chopped bulb or 1 teaspoon seed
Orange peel (no white pith) -- 1 piece, about 2-3 inches long
Parsley -- 6-8 sprigs
Fresh thyme -- 2 sprigs
Bay leaf -- 1
Saffron (optional) -- 1 pinch
Salt -- 2 teaspoons
Peppercorns -- 6-8
Water -- 2 quarts
White wine (optional) -- 1 cup

Red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and seeded -- 1
Potato, cooked and peeled -- 1
Garlic, crushed -- 4 cloves
Hot chile pepper, minced -- 1
Fresh basil -- 2 tablespoons
Salt and pepper -- to taste
Olive oil -- 1/4 cup
To Finish

Fish and seafood (see variations) -- 5-6 pounds
French bread sliced and toasted -- 2-3 pieces per person

For the Broth: Heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven oil over a medium flame. Add the onions, celery and garlic and sauté slowly until the onions are wilted and translucent. Stir in all the remaining broth ingredients, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 30-40 minutes.
Strain the broth, discarding the solids, and adjust its seasoning with salt and pepper. (The recipe can be prepared up to this point and the broth kept in the fridge until needed.)
For the Rouille: Place the roasted pepper, potato, garlic, chile pepper, basil, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor with a little of the broth from above. With the blender or processor running, gradually pour in the olive oil. Thin out the sauce a little with more of the broth if needed. The rouille should be thick but spreadable. Adjust seasoning and place in a sauce boat or small bowl.
To Finish: Bring the broth to a simmer again over medium heat. Add the fish and seafood in batches, starting with the firmest fish first and ending with the most delicate seafood. Simmer until all the fish and seafood is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
To serve, place the toasted bread in the bottom of each individual's bowl. Place a piece of each type of fish and seafood over the bread in each bowl and spoon the broth over all. Pass rouille at the table for each guest to stir into the bouillabaisse.

Any bouillabaisse worth its sea salt has at least three different kinds of fish and seafood, hopefully more for best flavor. While rascasse is a must in Marseille, any variety of non-oily white fish will do. Monkfish is especially tasty. For seafood, try clams, mussels, lobster, crab, langoustines, calamari, octopus or sea urchins.
If you can, buy the fish whole and have your fishmonger clean and fillet it for you. Have him save the bones and heads for you to use in the broth. Otherwise, ask him if he has heads and bones to sell. Don't use bones from any oily fish (salmon, mackerel). If all else fails, just substitute bottled clam juice for half the water.
Use 1 leek instead of the onion if you like.
Add 1 cup of peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes after straining the broth you like.
Add 1/4 cup Pernod liquor to the broth if you like.
Bouillabaisse, a Provençal word meaning "slow simmer," is special occasion food. It is a good dish to make when you are having a number of guests. In Marseille, where bouillabaisse originated as fishermen's food, the fish and seafood is traditionally strained from the broth and served on a platter, while the broth is poured into a soup terrine and ladled into bowls at the table. The rouille is spread on the toast, which garnish the soup.
Rouille can be used as a garnish for other Provençal fish dishes or simply spread on bread and eaten.

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