The JC100: Bouillabaisse

JC 100 Julie Child

Welcome to Week 10 of the JC100 Celebration!

I confess. I almost didn’t take part in this week’s assignment. With current temperatures in the Okanagan Valley soaring above 35° C, the last place I wanted to spend time was in the kitchen and the last thing I felt like eating was a steaming hot bowl of anything, including bouillabaisse. I actually caught myself wondering if anyone would notice if I just wrote up the recipe and inserted an old image from a post I did back in March where I described Chef Matthew Batey’s bouillabaisse along with his heartfelt Tribute to Julia Child.

Bowl of Boillabaisse with mussels, clams and croutons

But two things in particular kept me from taking the easy way out. The first is that Bastille Day in France is July 14th – a day that symbolizes the overthrow of the monarchy and the beginning of a new French Republic. If ever there were a week to attempt to Master the Art of French Cooking, this would be it.

Bouillabaisse may be the most hotly debated dish in all of France. Every village along the Mediterranean coast seems to have its own version with no two recipes alike. There is even an organization, Le Charte de la Bouillabaisse Marseillaise, whose sole purpose is to preserve the classic method of preparing this simple fisherman’s stew. Not only does the Charter particularize the required ingredients for a traditional Marseille Bouillabaisse, it also specifies the way the soup must be served (the fish must be cut up in front of the guests), and even what must be served with it (croûtes and rouille). According to the Charter, Marseille Bouillabaisse must consist of at least 4 types of the following fish:

  • Scorpion fish
  • White scorpion fish
  • Red mullet
  • Skate
  • Conger eel
  • John Dory

Always pragmatic, Julia Child recognized that “if you do not happen to live on the Mediterranean, you cannot obtain the particular rockfish, gurnards, mullets, weavers, sea eels, wrasses, and breams which they consider absolutely essential”.  Here are Julia’s recommendations for selecting the fish:

Ideally you should pick six or more varieties of fresh fish, which is why a bouillabaisse is at its best when made for at least six people. Some of the fish should be firm-fleshed and gelatinous like halibut, eel, and winter flounder and some tender and flaky like hake, baby cod, small pollock, and lemon sole. Shellfish are neither necessary nor particularly typical, but they always add glamor and colour if you wish to include them. Here are some suggestions:

  • Rock, Calico or Sea Bass
  • Cod or Lingcod
  • Flounder
  • Grouper
  • Grunt
  • Haddock
  • Hake or Whiting
  • Halibut
  • Lemon Sole
  • Perch
  • Pollock or Boston Bluefish
  • Porgy or Scup
  • Redfish or Red Drum
  • Scrod
  • Red or Gray Snapper
  • Spot
  • Fresh-water Trout; Sea Trout or Weakfish
  • Shellfish – Clams, Scallops, Mussels, Crab, Lobster

Manilla clams, halibut, tilapia and baby scallops

In the spirit of Bastille Day, I decided to defy tradition by using tilapia fillets, Manilla clams, halibut cheeks, and tiny Catarina Bay scallops. I also halved the recipe to serve 3 to 4 people, instead of 6 to 8. You may want to check with your local fish monger to see what’s fresh and on sale. This recipe calls for a lot of fresh fish and (depending on where you live) 6 – 8 pounds of halibut, for example, could cost you more than $150.

And then there’s the little matter of the price of saffron…

Saffron threads

Bouillabasse soup base in a pot on the stove

Julia Child’s Recipe for Bouillabaisse

The JC100: Bouillabaisse
Recipe Type: Soup
Author: Julia Child
Serves: 6 to 8
Excerpted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. Copyright © 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission from the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
Ingredients
  • 1 cup minced onions
  • 3/4 cup of minced leek, or 1/2 cup more onions
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves mashed garlic
  • 1 lb of ripe, red tomatoes roughly chopped, or 1 1/2 cups drained canted tomatoes, or 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 2 1/2 quarts water
  • 6 parsley springs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp thyme or basil
  • 1/2 tsp fennel
  • 2 big pinches of saffron
  • A 2-inch piece or 1/2 tsp dried orange peel
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 Tb salt (none if clam juice is used)
  • 3 to 4 pounds fish heads, bones and trimmings, or 1 quart clam juice, 1 1/2 quarts of water, and no salt
  • 6 to 8 pounds assorted lean fish, and shellfish if you wish
Instructions
  1. Cook the onions and leeks slowly in olive oil for 5 minutes or until almost tender but not browned.
  2. Stir in the garlic and tomatoes. Raise heat to moderate and cook 5 minutes more.
  3. Add the water, herbs, seasonings, and fish heads, bones and trimmings to the kettle (or clam juice) and cook uncovered at a moderate boil for 30 to 40 minutes.
  4. Strain the soup into the saucepan, pressing juices out of ingredients. Correct seasoning, adding a bit more saffron if you feel it necessary.
  5. You should have 2 1/2 quarts of in a higher, rather narrow kettle.
  6. Bring the soup to a rapid boil 20 minutes before serving. Add lobsters, crabs, and firm-fleshed fish. Bring quickly back to the boil and boil rapidly for 5 minutes. Add the tender-fleshed fish, the clams, mussels, and scallops. Bring rapidly to the boil again and boil 5 minutes more or until the fish are just tender when pierced with a fork. Do not overcook.
  7. Immediately lift out the fish and arrange on the platter. Correct seasoning, and pour the soup into the tureen over rounds of French bread. Spoon a ladleful of soup over the fish, and sprinkle parsley over both fish and soup. Serve immediately accompanied by the optional rouille.
Notes

To prepare the fish for cooking, have them cleaned and scaled. Discard the gills. Save heads and trimmings for fish stock. Cut large fish into crosswise slices 2 inches wide. Scrub clams. Scrub and soak the mussels. Wash scallops. If using live crab or lobster, split them just before cooking. remove the sand sack and intestinal tube from lobsters.

 

Mediterranean Fish Soup

The second thing that kept me from taking the easy way out was the always alluring promise of a new taste experience. I’ve had plenty of fish stew but I’ve never had rouille.

Rouille is the most fantastic sauce, flavoured with red pepper, garlic, herbs, olive oil and potato. Julia’s recipe says to pound all the ingredients in a bowl or mortar for several minutes to form a very smooth, sticky paste.

Ingredients to make the Rouill

After about 30 seconds of this nonsense, you may find yourself feeling a little rebellious. If so,  just toss it in the food processor like I did. You’ll end up with a gorgeous, garlicky, rust-coloured sauce (rouille means rust-brown or russet in French) that delivers a huge burst of brilliant flavour. Swirl it into the soup broth or smear spoonfuls of it on top of croûtes. Julia says that serving rouille is optional but before you decide whether to make it or not, there is a saying you should know about, and it goes like this…

Bouillabaisse without rouille is like Marseille without sunshine.

A bowl of bouillabaisse with traditional sides

Happy Bastille Day! 

Winged Mercury carrying the Torch of Freedom

 

 

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8 Comments

  1. Laura, I can see you are prepared to suffer for your art, spending up to $150 for ingredients and not getting out of the kitchen even if you can’t stand the heat. Amazing.

    Reply
    • Oh I found plenty of ways to keep costs down on this recipe. I cut the recipe in half and relied heavily on inexpensive tilapia fillets. I also saved a bundle when I found single use packages of saffron. :-)

      Saffron

      Reply
  2. Julia did it right.

    Reply
    • But she was even more fun when she didn’t. Her kitchen mishaps on The French Chef were some of her best moments :-)

      Reply
  3. Fantastic that you linked this in to Food onFriday.
    Have a great week!

    Reply
  4. All dishes look delicious!

    Reply

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