Fish soup, anyone? Likely, you may not get many responses to that. Change the name to Bouillabaisse and it becomes an inviting dish with all the allure of French cuisine! So much for the power of words!
For that is what bouillabaisse is. A basic broth with vegetables and seafood.
The name is composed of two words meaning ‘to boil’ and ‘to simmer’, supposed to describe how the dish is made.
Bouillabaisse has its recorded origin in Marseille, being made by local fishermen using the bony fish which could not be sold to customers. The types of fish considered essential were rascasse, sea robin, and European conger. These are fearsome looking fish indeed, as seen from pictures on the net.
An article in the New Yorker magazine ‘The Soul of Bouillabaisse Town’, by A. J. Liebling and published in 1962, talks about the importance of rascasse for a bouillabaisse and the search for it in the US. A very interesting read indeed.
By and by there were so many versions of bouillabaisse in Marseille alone that in 1980 a Bouillabaisse Charter was drawn up by a number of prominent Marseille restaurateurs, defining the ingredients and method of preparation of this dish.
The identifying flavors of a bouillabaisse today are fennel and saffron.
All ingredients except for the seafood are cooked in stock to form a delicious broth, which gets its beautiful color and enticing aroma from the saffron.
The vegetables are chopped small so that they blend well into the broth.
You can make your own stock. Any combination of fish bones and shrimp/ lobster shells will work for the stock. Just boil them up for about 30 minutes, in sufficient water with some garlic, celery, onions, black pepper – whatever you have on hand. Cool, strain and freeze, and there it is ready anytime you need it. I find using shrimp shells for the stock the easiest.
When making a bouillabaisse, I totally take advantage of the versatility of bouillabaisse and use pretty much any combination of white fleshed fish and shellfish. And any variety of scallops. Yum!
To serve, you can remove the seafood from the broth after it is cooked and serve them separately on a platter. I prefer to keep them in the broth to be ladled out into the soup bowls.
Bouillabaisse is traditionally served with thick slices of bread and a rouille made of olive oil, garlic, saffron, and red peppers. Cayenne can also be added to the mix to add an extra kick.
B is for Bouillabaisse
- Soak saffron in a spoonful of stock or water. Set aside.
- Heat oil in a largish pot or deep skillet on the stove top.
- Add onion, garlic, celery, carrot, potato, and fennel to the hot oil.
- When the onion starts to turn transparent, add the stock, tomatoes and saffron (with the soaking liquid) to the pot.
- Season with salt and pepper and continue to cook.
- When the vegetables are cooked, reduce the heat to a simmer.
- Add the fish to the pot and cook for two minutes.
- Add the shrimps and continue cooking for another two minutes.
- Add the clams/ mussels and cook till they open, about three to four minutes.
- Add the scallops and immediately turn off the heat.
- Serve hot along with slices of bread and the rouille.