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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.