Our favorite fish stew: la Bouillabaisse
Updated: Apr 3, 2018
There are several variations of this delectable potage and each region in Provence has its own particular interpretation. However, all honest and authentic variations have chunks of fish and shellfish as their centerpiece and beautifully toasted garlic croutons with "la rouille" as the required accoutrement.
Last summer, while staying in Provence with family and friends, we headed to Cassis for a day filled with sight-seeing in les calanques, beach-going, and of course, the obligatory gastronomic sampling of the village's bouillabaisse. For dinner, we were able to get a large table at Chez Gilbert on the Quai des Baux overlooking the Port of Cassis. Of course, we ordered la Bouillabaisse and it did not disappoint. The soup itself was thick like gravy and easily hid the morsels of seafood in its velvety blanket. The seafood was cooked enough to stand on its own without becoming mushy or unrecognizable. In plain French, c'était délicieuse!
Here's a photo of my husband's second serving - it was presented in two bowls: the soup in one, the chunks of seafood in the other.
Chez Gilbert's presentation of the Mediterranean classic, la bouillabaise:
One of our favorite versions of this stew comes from our friend and French Chef, Camille Schwartz, with whom we took several cooking classes. I've added new potatoes to his classic recipe. It serves 8 to 10 people and goes wonderfully with a glass of white wine (un bon vin blanc de Cassis, peut-être?) ...oh, yeah, and truth be told, my husband does the cooking! :)
Ingredients for la rouille:
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 1/2 cup olive oil
2 tsp. finely chopped garlic
1 tbsp. water
Whisk all ingredients, except the olive oil, in a small bowl. When well-combined, begin drizzling the oil slowly while continuously whisking until the oil is gone. The rouille should have a mayonnaise consistency and have the color of rust.
Ingredients for la bouillabaisse:
1 medium leek-white part only, washed and sliced
1 medium onion-peeled and diced
1 cup celery-diced, preferable the inside part
1/2 cup fennel-diced bulb part only
1/2 cup carrots-peeled and sliced
1 bulb garlic-peeled and crushed
1/2 pound new potatoes-quartered
2 cups ripe tomatoes-diced
3 pinches of saffron threads
1 1/4 tsp. dry basil
1 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
1 pinch dried chilies
3 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 bunch fresh basil
3 pints clam juice
Plan on each per person consuming 6 oz. of fish plus some shellfish. Try to use at least 3 different types of white fish cut into medium morsels (use monkfish, snapper, halibut, sea bass, rockfish, ono, john dory, etc.) and 3 different shellfish (use mussels, clams, prawns, scallops, crab legs, lobster, etc.).
For the croutons:
Slice half a baguette into 1/3" thick slices and toast in the oven at 450 degrees for about 5 minutes or until light brown. Set aside.
To make the bouillabaisse:
Use a 1 1/2 to 2-gallon capacity soup pot. Add 3 oz of olive oil and turn up to high. When hot, add the leeks, onions, celery, fennel, and garlic and stir with a wooden spoon occasionally until lightly blond. Add the clam juice , carrots, tomatoes, salt, pepper, saffron, fennel seeds, dry basil, and chilies. Bring to a boil, cover and let simmer for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Meanwhile, prepare the fish and shellfish, slice the basil, chop the parsley and make the croutons. Blend the broth in a blender until it is a smooth soup. Pour back into the soup pot; take a taste, soup should be a little strong. Add all the fish, shellfish, 1/2 bunch of the sliced basil, and potatoes and let simmer until the fish is done, and the potatoes are soft, about 10 to 15 minutes at medium heat. For an additional taste of Provence, add a splash of Pernod Ricard, or other anise liquor before serving in a large bowl. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and basil. Serve the rouille on the side to spread on the croutons...