Approx cost: €40
Approx calories (per serving, 6 servings, including croutons and rouille, not including shellfish): ~550
Approx preparation time: 100 minutes
M y wife and I have recently been watching Food Safari, or, to be more precise “French Food Safari”. Despite living here, I know very little about French Food, and although perhaps they like to think otherwise, for a foreigner, traditional French restaurants and bistros can be intimidating. In any case, they made something rather good looking on one of the episodes – Bouillabaisse.
Bouillabaisse is a seafood soup made with various kinds of cooked fish and shellfish and vegetables, flavored with a variety of herbs and spices such as garlic, orange peel, basil, bay leaf, fennel and saffron. Bouillabaisse (Occitan: bolhabaissa) is a traditional Provençal fish stew originating from the port city of Marseille. The French and English form bouillabaisse comes from the Provençal Occitan word bolhabaissa [?buja?bajs?], a compound that consists of the two verbs bolhir (to boil) and abaissar (to reduce heat, i.e., simmer).
So, I thought to myself – well, worth a try. As soon as I started finding the ingredients for it I realised that this is definitely not a “Five Euro Food”. The recipes I was looking at were calling for 5 grams of Saffron? Are they insane? My local supermarket (one of the cheapest, largest stores around the Paris region) was selling 0.8g of Saffron (in little 0.1g pots) for €14. So I’d need €88 worth of Saffron, just for the Soup? Haha, nice one. Next was the fish – I’ve no doubt that if you live in a harbour town you can probably pick up all the fresh fish you need very, very easily. Not so much in my case. I was able to get the fish I needed for €20, but that’s only because it was reduced by 50% because it was expiring in 2 days.
The end result? Well, it’s not something I’d want to eat every day, but it was a fun experience. The smell and look of it at the end was fantastic, and the flavours in general were good. It wasn’t your typical “fish soup”. The range of flavours was very complex, and delicate, but was it worth the effort and money spent to prepare it? I would say, unfortunately, no. But hey, what do I know? I would love to be proved wrong and perhaps one day I’ll have an opportunity to try a professionally made bouillabaisse. For the time being though, I’m pleased with the experience. I may not be a fan of this particular stuff yet but it’s inspired me to try more French dishes. Hope you’re all having a good day
For the soup
- Whole, gutted fish, around 9 total (such as Red Gurnard, Rock Cod, Monkfish, John Dory etc). I was unable to find whole fish and instead found a cheap load of large fillets of fish such as Cod, as well as some Red Gurnard and Monkfish)
- 1 head of Fennel
- 5 Shallots
- 2 Carrots
- 2 sticks of Celery
- 2 tbsps Tomato Paste
- Rind of one orange
- 100 ml Pernod
- 0.3g Saffron
- 2 tsp Fennel Seeds
- 1 bunch of Parsley
- 1 bunch of Tarragon
- Fish stock (to cover ingredients) – (to make a good fish stock, add an onion, chopped leek, celery, salt, pepper and cheap white-fish fillets or left-over fish bones/heads/skin etc into a large pan. Pour in about 1.5 litres of water and bring to boil. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes before straining and voilà!)
- 2 tbsps Olive Oil
For the rouille
- 2 slices of white bread, crusts removed
- 1 tbsp Vinegar
- 1 tbsp Water
- 2 Egg Yolks
- 3 cloves Garlic
- 0.1g Saffron
- Rice Bran or Grape Seed oil
You’ll also need
- Shellfish of your choice (mussels, shrimps etc)
- Start off by chopping the fish into large chunks. If you have been able to find whole fish (ensure they’ve been gutted) then hack them into pieces, bones and all. Place the 2 tbps of Olive Oil into the bottom of a very large pan and heat. Transfer the fish into the pan and fry lightly, stirring well.
- While the fish is frying, chop the Fennel and Celery into chunks, peel and slice the Shallots and Carrots and chop half of the Parsley and the Tarragon. Transfer all this to the pan and then cut away the rind from the orange and slice. Add to the pan with the Fennel Seeds, the Saffron, the Tomato paste and the Pernod. Continue to cook through for another minute or so before covering the ingredients in the pan with the Fish Stock. Mix well, cover and bring to the boil. Once boiling, turn down the heat and simmer for about 1 hour, stirring periodically.
- After one hour you should have something which looks roughly like this. At this point you’ll need to blend the soup. If you have whole fish, you’ll likely need a Food Processor, though if using purely fish, with the odd bone here and there, you can use a Hand Blender. Be sure to blend the whole soup – bones and all. After this is done you’ll have a thick “sludge”. Transfer to a sieve and strain out the soup, before transferring back to a clean pan once again.
- Cut your baguette into slices, about 1.5 – 2 cm thick and bake in a hot oven, around 200 degrees Celsius, for about 15 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Meanwhile for the Rouille, place the Saffron, the 1 tbsp Vinegar and the 1 tbsp Water into a small microwaveable bowl and microwave for about 20-30 seconds. Remove and stir well, allowing the Saffron to infuse into the liquid. Tear the slices of crustless White Bread into small pieces and place into a Food Processor. Pour in the Saffron/Vinegar/Water solution and blend on high-speed for about 1 minute, to form bread-crumbs.
- Peel and mince the Garlic and add in to the bread-crumbs, with the Egg Yolks and blend again for another 30 seconds or so before starting to pour in the Rice Bran or Grape Seed oil. Do this while the blender is on and do it very slowly.
- Continue adding oil until you achieve a soft paste-like consistency. Transfer to a bowl and set-aside. When the baguette croutons are ready, allow them to cool before spreading with the Rouille. Heat through the soup before stirring in the rest of the Tarragon and half of the remaining Parsley, finely-chopped.
- Meanwhile, prepare the seafood you want to serve with the soup. I selected shrimps, although you can equally serve mussels, or a mixture of many things. Cook these in a method you’d like – steaming, grilling etc, before serving the soup into bowls, setting the seafood into the centre of the bowl. Garnish with the remaining Parsley, chopped, and serve with the baguette croutons, smothered in Rouille. Enjoy!