Bouillabaisse may just 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 scorpionfish
- Red mullet
- 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
- Hake or Whiting
- Lemon Sole
- Pollock or Boston Bluefish
- Porgy or Scup
- Redfish or Red Drum
- Red or Gray Snapper
- Fresh-water Trout; Sea Trout or Weakfish
- Shellfish – Clams, Scallops, Mussels, Crab, Lobster
Julia Child’s Bouillabaisse
- 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 canned 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
- Cook the onions and leeks slowly in olive oil for 5 minutes or until almost tender but not browned.
- Stir in the garlic and tomatoes. Raise heat to moderate and cook 5 minutes more.
- 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.
- Strain the soup into the saucepan, pressing juices out of ingredients. Correct seasoning, adding a bit more saffron if you feel it necessary.
- You should have 2 1/2 quarts of in a higher, rather narrow kettle.
- 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.
- 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.
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.