Ask anyone who knows me. They’ll tell you I’m not someone who often blows her own horn. But guess what? I am today. Unashamedly so, too. It all started with Tuesday’s WordPress Daily Prompt: “If a restaurant were to name something after you, what would it be? Describe it. (Bonus points if you give us a recipe!)”
Hands down it would be my bouillabaisse.
In case you’re not familiar with what it is, bouillabaisse is a traditional Provencal fish stew originating from the port city of Marseille. It’s made with fish and seafood and it’s ‘cooked’ in a broth. The Italians have a version called cioppino. And I’ll bet there are those who would say that a creole seafood gumbo is another variation.
What I make is is the French version. It’s my own recipe. I concocted it. But the ingredients are pretty
standard. And if I do say so, myself, it is OUTSTANDING.
Feel free not to take my word for it. I’m happy to give you a list of friends who’ve had it. And rave each and every time. In fact, I made it for a colleague, his wife and inlaws once.
His mother in law is from Marseille; and she told me mine was better than any she’d had at home. What more proof do you need?
I take my time with it. There’s a lot of prep. But it is SO worth it. To smell it cooking is an absolutely heady experience. The shopping is also pure pleasure. I love each and every step. Particularly the eating, though.
Just imagine a really large bowl, filled to the brim with a glorious array of fresh fish and seafood. Served in a delicious broth, tasting of garlic and wine and other goodies. Of course you need some gorgeous crusty bread for dunking; and let’s not forget the wine for drinking. I always add a green salad after the meal and something sweet for dessert. Anything chocolate is perfect.
You want my recipe now, don’t you? I’d be happy to share it, but I don’t have one. Because I made it up as I went along the first time, I’ve never written a recipe up. At least in terms of ‘measurements’. So as to how much of anything, experiment; and use your judgement and common sense. I am happy to give you the ingredients, though. And take you through the steps I follow.
FOR THE BROTH, which I like to make the day before so all the flavours have a chance to co-mingle:
- olive oil
- knife-chopped garlic
- coarsely chopped onion
- thinly sliced celery
- thinly sliced carrots
- thinly sliced fennel
- tomatoes, plum preferably and fresh, cut in quarters
- fish stock (either my own or store-bought from the fishmonger, depending on how ambitious I am)
- clam juice (bottled)
- white wine (the better the wine, the better the taste, so it should really be good enough for you to drink)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Tabasco to taste (not essential)
In a stock pot I sauté the garlic in the olive oil making sure not to burn it. Just until it’s soft and translucent. Then I add the celery, onions, carrots and fennel. Again, I cook until the carrots and fennel get a bit soft and everything else is translucent. Then I add the stock, clam juice and wine. Bring it to a boil. Then reduce and let it simmer for about a half hour.
Then I taste it, to see if I need more garlic. I add pepper and salt if necessary. The last step is the addition of the tomatoes. I don’t put many in. I don’t want the broth to be a tomato broth. But that’s just a matter of personal taste. Again I bring it to a boil and then let it simmer until the tomatoes cook down. When they’re almost done I add the Tabasco. Let it cook for about another 10 or 15 minutes and taste one, last time to see if I need more seasoning.
That’s it for the broth. I give it a good stir and let it rest. Once it cools down it goes into the fridge.
Yes, I’m a fresh food junkie. So as far as the fish is concerned, nothing frozen goes into my bouillabaisse. Nothing out of a can goes into it, either. So you MUST promise to do the same. It’s worth it, trust me. So here’s what goes into mine:
- monkfish, cut in chunks (big enough so they don’t disintegrate)
- halibut or grouper, whichever is better on the day, also cut in chunks (or both, if you like — also big enough so they don’t disintegrate)
- shrimp, shelled and deveined
About an hour before dinner I take the broth out of the refrigerator so it can come to room temperature. The fish and seafood don’t take very long to cook, so I only bring it to a boil about 10 minutes before I plan to serve the meal. Once it’s boiling I taste one, last time for seasoning. I put the clams in first as they take the longest to open. But it’s not long, so keep checking. Then I put in the shrimp, followed by the lobster and then the mussels. Each time I add something, I cover the pot, especially so the shells can open. The fish is added last.
Depending on how much you’ve got in there, it takes between 5 and 10 minutes to cook. Really you’re just waiting for the shells to open. DO NOT OVERCOOK. All the seafood will be rubbery, if you do. And REMEMBER — any shells that do not open, MUST be thrown out. Conversely, if there are shells that have opened BEFORE cooking you MUST also throw them away. VERY, VERY IMPORTANT.
Dish into large, deep bowls, with broth. Trust me you will want to also enjoy the broth, just as if it was soup. Garnish with some finely chopped Italian parsley. Put some big empty bowls on the table for all the shells.
Should there be any leftovers, which I sincerely doubt, remove the seafood from the shells before refrigerating.
Don’t know about you, but my mouth is watering. Bon Appetit, everyone.