Bouillabaisse is one of those heavily debated soups. Everyone seems to have an opinion on this soup despite whether they are familiar with its origin or not. I’ve always found this amusing and of course I’m no different.
Personally, there is something really amiss about a bouillabaisse that is not smooth – you know the kind you more often than not receive at your local French restaurant containing various pieces of fish and other types of seafood in a lighter tomato-fish based broth? While many of these soups are quite good, they are not what I want when I order Bouillabaisse and after many such failed attempts I almost never order it anymore, at least not in Vancouver. Occasionally, I will make the mistake of taking the risk when I’m in other cities but regret generally follows instantly. I have to admit that this saddens me to my core as a great bouillabaisse is one of my absolute favorite foods, might even be in my top 5.
I was trying to avoid making an obnoxious statement like this but screw it I cant help myself: I was ruined forever after having the real thing in the South of France many years back and since then I have not been able to really enjoy a bouillabaisse properly unless I make it at home. There I said it. I sort of hate myself now… well not really, but I bet you do!
Ok seriously though. Have any of you been to Marseilles or even Provence and ordered bouillabaisse? If so you will be familiar with the feeling of complete elation when presented with this little bowl of perfection. Often fish and soup are served separately and in some establishments, my personal favorites, even debone the fish in front of you and then blend it into the broth before serving it. Others will serve you the broth alone with the fish served as a separate course. One thing is certain though, when you order a bouillabaisse in the south of France you will never receive the chunky fish soup you do in North America.
That is ultimately what matters to me that it’s blended. I know that it’s impossible to get what experts would consider to be and ‘authentic bouillabaisse’ in North America, if only because it would be next to impossible to get the sort of different fish that is required. I’m definitely not trying to be authentic here. I am however, pretty satisfied with my adaptation as I think it comes close to at least achieving certain flavor profiles reminiscent of what you would find in the south of France.
A few things that I think are important: 1. that you buy as many varieties of fish as possible, the French say minimum 5 different varieties, preferably white fish, crab is good too or lobster if only for the shells 2. That you have access to a great fish stock if you can’t make it yourself 3. Time. It takes time to make this and it’s best not to rush.
Bouillabaisse – Serves 4 – Very roughly adapted from Always Hungry
For the Soup:
1/4 – 1/2 bottle white wine, reduced by half
1 lb of halibut – either fillet or skin on it doesn’t matter
1 lb cod
1 whole crab
1 - 2 lobster tails in the shell
additional fish scraps is you can get them (heads, bones etc.)
2 bulbs of fennel, sliced stalks reserved.
1 large onion, sliced
1 head of garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
1 carrot, diced
8 oz Pernod
1 28 ounce can of san marzano tomatoes
8 -10 cups fish stock
Pinch of saffron threads
2 teaspoons of sweet paprika
1 idaho potato, peeled and diced
tablespoon black pepper corns
1 star anise
fennel stalks reserved from fennel bulbs
For the Rouille:
1 cup mayonnaise
4 garlic cloves, minces
pinch of saffron
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
a few tablespoons of fish stock
1. Reduce the white wine by half in a medium sized pot and set aside.
2. Heat a large stock pot (the bigger the better!) over high heat. Add in the olive oil and once its starts smoking sear the fish in batches including any fish scraps you may have, set aside on a plate once seared.
3. Add the fennel, onion, garlic and carrot to the same pot you seared the fish in and cook until translucent.
4. Add the drained tomatoes to the vegetables and caramelize. Add in the seared fish pieces, any additional bones and whole crab and lobster.
5. Add the Pernod and saffron and reduce until very little liquid remains.
6. Add in the previously reduced wine and reduce entire mixture again.
7. Add fish stock and additional water if necessary to cover.
8. Place potatoes, pepper corns, anise and reserved fennel stalks in a cheesecloth tie and add to the soup along with salt and pepper.
9. Simmer for 2 hours.
10. Remove all solids and run them through a food mill. Then recombine with the liquid and strain. For a thicker soup which is what I did I added back in some of the fish pieces left in the food mill and used an immersion blender to incorporate them back into the soup.
11. For the rouille combine mayonnaise, garlic, saffron, paprika fish stock. Mix to combine.
12. Serve soup hot with crustini and rouille
**PS i apologize for the pictures it was 3pm by the time I was able to take any and there was almost no natural light left.