Bouillabaisse: French Fish soup – From Cast off to Gourmet
Bouillabaisse has not always had the notoriety it has today. Enough so that it should end up on menus of 3-star restaurants. This Southern French soup was a meal fit for fishermen who put into it whatever they couldn’t sell – either because it was unattractive or small. It was a hearty meal at the end of a long day at sea. The name bouillabaisse comes from the cooking technique, you would bring the broth to boil bouillir then lower it baisser.
I love bouillabaisse with its rich fishy broth. I have sometimes been served the soup with the fish already mixed in but traditionally the broth is served apart from the fish and you would pour the broth over your fish, spread your rouille (garlicky mayonnaise) onto your crouton and add the crouton to your soup to absorb the broth. Yummy!
My First Bouillabaisse
The first time I had bouillabaisse was in a French restaurant in NYC called Marseille. I believe there is still a restaurant by this name in NY but it is not the place I went to. I was a culinary student at the time and my chefs encouraged us to venture out to restaurants as much as we could afford (and sometimes a bit out of our budget). When I saw this place reviewed in the New York Times, I thought I had to give it a try. While the portion size could have used a little help, the whole experience was amazing. I can still smell it. It was excellent and had definitely brought this simple dish to a new level. Mind you simple does not mean without complexity. If you’ve ever tasted this stew and you enjoyed it, you know what I mean. It is rich with flavor.
If you can’t make it to France and particularly to the south of France, don’t be afraid to try your hand at making bouillabaisse at home. While in many recipes it has become a rather noble fish, and you should keep in mind that it used to be a simple fisherman’s stew. So put away the pretension and dig in.
Here is a quick Bouillabaisse recipe from Cook’n With Class to try at home.
- 2 Fish Carcasses (chopped)
- 18 Whole Shrimp (including shells and heads)
- 1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
- 2 Onions (diced)
- 4 Shallots (diced, optional)
- 2 Carrots (sliced thick)
- 2 Sticks of Celery (save leaves)
- 1 bunch Flat Parsley (minced, save stems)
- few Sprigs of Tarragon
- 1 Cup White Wine (or rosé)
- In a large pot over medium heat add olive oil, fish carcasses, shrimp heads, and shells, and tomato paste. Stir until the shells are dark red and the fish starts to stick. Transfer content in a bowl set aside and deglaze with wine. Make sure you scrape well the bottom of the pan. Transfer the wine to the same bowl where you're "parking" the fish and shrimp parts.
- In the same pot add more oil and cook the onions until translucent, then add back the fish+shrimp+wine mix and the rest of the ingredients, including celery leaves and parsley stems. Add enough water to barely cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve, cheesecloth, or a "chinois". Save a few carrots slices per person (carrots should not be very soft).
- Keep strained stock simmering, reduce it if not flavorful enough. Season with salt.
- Cube some potatoes, boil in salted water for a few minutes then finish the cooking in a little bit of fish stock.
- For each person count 1/2 fish filet (skin removed), 3 mussels and 3 shrimp, 3 cherry tomatoes 3 cubes (or balls, if you used a melon baller) of cooked potatoes.
- Bring the stock to a simmer, poach the shrimp and set aside in a warm bowl (about 4 minutes) poach the mussels and set aside (about 2 minutes).
- Poach the halved fish filets (about 5 minutes)
- In a serving bowl put carrots slices, cherry tomatoes, cooked potatoes, cover with stock, add the cooked mussels, shrimp, and fish, sprinkle with parsley.
- If desired serve the baguettes slices topped with garlic mayonnaise.