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.

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