Bouillabaisse is a classic French dish from southern France, in particular, of the port town Marseille. It requires many different varieties of fish, and traditionally was made with whatever the fishermen hadn’t sold that morning. There are plenty of variations of bouillabaisse, and even in Marseille you’ll find strong debates over the proper way to make it.
The most important thing is that you should use several varieties of fish, and the fish should be very fresh. In Provence you would use a variety of Mediterranean fish, but here in the states where we can’t get those fish fresh, we have to make substitutions. Use firm fish for fillets such as sea bass, red mullet, haddock, halibut, cod, conger, or red porgy. Small whole fish can be added as well. Also traditional are mussels, squid, and crab.
- 3 pounds of at least 3 different kinds of fish fillets
- 1-2 pounds mussels
- 1 pound squid or crab
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 cup thinly sliced onions
- 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
- 1/4 fennel bulb, thinly sliced, or 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- One long, wide strip of orange zest
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Sliced rustic French bread, plain or toasted
Directions for Sauce Rouille:
- 1 Tbsp hot fish stock or clam broth
- 2 cloves peeled garlic
- 1 small red hot pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup soft white bread, pulled into bits
- 1/2 cup olive oil
Put hot fish stock or clam broth into the bottom of a blender. Add garlic and red hot pepper, salt and bread. Blend until very smooth. With the blender still running, add olive oil slowly and stop the blending as soon as the oil disappears. At serving time pass Rouille in a little bowl along with the bouillabaisse. Each serving is about 1/2 a teaspoon that you stir into your soup. Use gingerly like Tabasco.
1 Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large (6-8 quart) pot on medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions, leeks, and fennel. Stir to coat the vegetables with the olive oil. Cook on medium heat until softened but not browned, about 10-15 minutes. Add the crushed garlic, chopped tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme, saffron, salt, and orange zest. Cook until the tomatoes are soft and broken down, about 10 more minutes.
2 Cut fish fillets into 2-inch pieces. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Lay the fish pieces over the vegetable mixture and pour over with 2 cups of boiling water. Bring everything to a boil, and cook, uncovered, for about 5 minutes. Add the mussels, squid, and/or crab, pushing aside the fish so that the shellfish is now covered in liquid, and boil for 10 minutes more, uncovered.
3 Remove the bay leaves, sprigs of thyme, and orange zest. Add freshly ground black pepper, and more salt to taste.
4 To serve, remove the fish and shellfish to a platter to keep warm. Place a thick slice of crusty French bread (plain or lightly toasted) in each bowl and put a dollop of the rouille sauce on top of the bread. Ladle the soup broth over the bread, and then portion out fish and shellfish onto the bowls.