Regional French Cuisine: Provence: Bouillabaisse

28 08 2009

The people have spoken.  (Well, a couple dozen of them, anyway.)  Thank you to all who voted in my poll; I dedicate this bouillabaisse to you.

Ugly buggers, aren't they?

The bouillabaisse adventure started with me poring over various bouillabaisse recipes, notably Robuchon’s, and making a list of the fish I would need to acquire.  I continue to be baffled by fish nomenclature.  It’s notoriously unclear even from region to region in the States – imagine trying to identify fish that come from different seas in a second language!  But that’s part of the reason I bought Robuchon’s book to begin with: with French recipes, designed for French kitchens, I should be able to find the right kinds of fish or meat for any given recipe, rather than attempting to guess at a substitution.  I dutifully wrote down the names of all twelve varieties of seafood called for in the recipe, categorized them by cooking time, and then looked them up individually in the index, to see if they had alternate names, or if they were anything I might recognize.  List in hand, Nick and I went down to the market in search of a fishmonger.  It turns out that les vacancestake a toll on the market, too.  Where we would ordinarily have had half a dozen fish stalls to choose from, this time there was one.  Fortunately, they had three of the fish on my list: rascasse (pictured above), grondin (pictured below), and congre, which was mercifully sold in slices.

Grondins, about to lose their heads

We had the rascasse cleaned, but neglected to ask for the same service on the little grondins.  Oops.  Between us, Nick and I managed to butcher the fish, and I mean that in all senses of the word.  Nevertheless, we ended up with a bowlful of fish meat and a bunch of heads, spines, and tails with which to make the fumet.

The brothy base of the bouillabaisse.
1. Fish Heads, Fish Heads…, 2. Stirring the Fumet, 3. Straining

Fumet, of course, is a fancy word for fish stock, particularly one where the fish and aromatics (including onion, fennel, tomato, bay leaf, and saffron, among others) are first sweated in oil, then covered with a mixture of white wine and water.  Instead of wine in this one, I used a couple good glugs of pastis, on Ann’ssuggestion.  After the requisite 45 minutes of simmering, Robuchon says to take out the fish bits and bouquet garni, and then pass the rest through a food mill before straining it.  That didn’t happen in my kitchen.  Everything had pretty much disintegrated by then, so I just mashed it all with a potato masher and strained it twice: first through a colander, then through a fine-mesh strainer.  This is perfectly acceptable practice when making a classic soupe de poissons,  so I figured I was safe.

Every recipe I came across for bouillabaisse (including the one I remember making in culinary school) insisted that it be served with rouille.

Rouille is basically a spicy, saffron-spiked aioli, stabilized with potato.  I thought that since the potato was going to make the emulsion a lot easier, I’d christen my new mortar and pestle with healthy doses of garlic, saffron, and harissa.

Finally using my mortar and pestle
1. Mortar and Pestle, 2. Making Rouille: Pounding, 3. Making Rouille: Emulsifying

I started by mashing them a bit, using coarse salt as grist, until I had a chunky purée.  Then I muddled in the innards of half a small baked potato and an egg yolk.  Finally, I drizzled in olive oil while stirring furiously with the pestle, and when I was done, I had a creamy, spicy, rust-colored (from whence it derives its name) rouille.  None of the French recipes I found said to do this, but I smeared it on slices of baguette and broiled them for a few minutes, because that’s the way we did it in school, and I liked it.

Rouille toasts

Meanwhile, the strained fumet was returned to a simmer and the bits of fish were gently cooking in it.  (First the rascasse and grondin, followed by the congre, to avoid overcooking.)  When the fish was done, I scooped it out into serving bowls and quickly whisked a few tablespoons of olive oil into the soup.  I ladled the soup over the fish and scattered a few parsley leaves on top.  A couple of rouille toasts, a glass of chilled white wine, and dinner was served.

A lovely Provençal supper

After all the fish and rouille toasts had been eaten, we were still left with about a quart of the broth.  I have plans for a bouillabaisse risotto in the near future.

I also have a new post up at the all-new, spiffily redesigned Secrets of Paris, wherein I visit my favorite Parisian bouquiniste: the one who sells food books!  Check it out here.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.




14 responses

28 08 2009

Coincidentally, I watched Julia Child make this last night in the second or third episode of The French Chef, grace a Netflix. She recommends an anise liqueur as well. Your version has the edge for me though– that rouille sounds potently scrumptious. Nice work Camille.

29 08 2009
Ann @ Cooking the Books

There must be many as many variations of bouillabaisse as there are families in France. I made a (totally different) version in Provence, which two cookbooks (Patricia Wells and Lydie Marshall) swore was “authentic” — the soup was much thicker, with crushed tomatoes, the fish was monkfish (according to both authors, the only fish one should use), and there were mussels added at the end, and aioli, not rouille, added at the table. Your version looks equally delicious and much more refined.

30 08 2009
Reuben Morningchilde

This reads like a very nice, straight-forward version of a bouillabaisse. Cooking with pastis can never be wrong in my book, and broiling th bread with the rouille made me grin and wonder why I had never thought of doing so before. Thanks for posting!

30 08 2009

You have convinced me it will be so much nicer to have bouillabaisse at a restaurant where I don’t have to be part of the making process. Yours looks delicious though.

30 08 2009

Ryan – Thanks! Potently scrumptious it is… if I had any left over, I’d love to try it on a sandwich.

Ann – Funny, all the recipes I found insisted on rascasse, but I’m sure you’re right about the multitude of variations on the theme.

Reuben – My pleasure!

Paulita – Ha! 🙂

31 08 2009
hungry dog

What an incredible dinner! Lovely. Interesting about rouille–I have heard of it and had it but never realized it contained potato.

31 08 2009

I had bouillabaise when I was in France this past April. I could not get enough rouille, it was so good. I have made it once before, but I should try again soon. Great entry!

31 08 2009

hungry dog – I think there are versions of it that don’t have potato, but it really helps to stabilize the emulsion and makes a thicker, more substantial sauce.

Kelly – Thanks, it really is good stuff!

31 08 2009

I’m almost tempted to try this myself, I don’t know where I’d get all the unusual types of fish from though! It looks really delicious and you make it look so much easier than I imagined it would be.

1 09 2009

Beautiful post! I’m looking forward to the future risotto.

1 09 2009

Looks wonderful. I want to sop up the broth with those perfectly poised slices of baguette. And rouille! How can I have come this far and never tasted rouille? I can tell I am missing something huge (and I do have some homemade harissa lying around, so what a way to use a bit!).

1 09 2009

Sam – I’m of the opinion that you can use pretty much any fish you like, just be sure to use a few different kinds. Robuchon says that the bouillabaisse flavor come from combining many types of fish, so I’d say just use whatever’s freshest!

Rhonda – Thanks! Me, too. 🙂

Trisha – I suggest you amend the situation, posthaste. Homemade harissa is a real treat!

13 10 2009

your version is a bit to waterish i am a professional chef and ive tried lots of bouillabaisse recipes and thicker is nicer although i made this one the other day and it is one of the nicest even though it is not thick 🙂

13 10 2009

hanekin – Like Ann mentioned above, there are probably as many Bouillabaisse recipes as there are towns in Southern France. I was mostly following Joël Robuchon’s recipe which is a decidedly on the “refined” end of the scale. Generally, I think of Bouillabaisse as a variety of fish in broth, while soupe de poissons is the heartier, thicker preparation. Either way, it tasted great!

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