Bouillabaisse

Bouillabaisse

Serves: 6-8      
Approx cost: €40      
Approx calories (per serving, 6 servings, including croutons and rouille, not including shellfish): ~550    
Approx preparation time: 100 minutes

Adapted from a recipe at sbs.com.au – Bouillabaisse

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 :)

Ingredients

Bouillabaisse ingredients

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)
  • Baguette

Instructions

  1. 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.
    Cooking the fish
  2. 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.
    Everything in the pan
  3. 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.
    Just before being blended
  4. 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.
    Toasting the bread
  5. 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.
    Adding egg yolks to the breadcrumbs
  6. 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.
    Blending the Rouille
  7. 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!
    Bouillabaisse

Bouillabaisse

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21 Comments

  1. OMG, Charles! I adore bouillabaisse! The first time I had it was in Marseille and I was hooked! I'm going to make a budget version on my Blog soon, hopefully it will qualify as €5 food. Saffron is the essential ingredient, but there are ways to stretch it out, for example, soak a few strands in any liquid (I usually use white wine). Now you have me super excited about making this dish (and we're not home until Sunday!) thanks :-p

    Reply
    • Thanks Eva – I'd love to see what you do with it in your version… after all, my version here couldn't really be considered to be "budget", lol :D I still have saffron left so I look forward to hopefully trying your version too! :)

      Reply
  2. Charles, I have to tell you, reading your posts is the highlight of my morning. "5 grams of Saffron? Are they insane?" I just about keeled over laughing.

    Even as a Quebecer who speaks fluent French, I find French restaurants (and the attitude that sometimes accompanies them) a little intimidating/off-putting. Shhh… that's between you and me.

    Ok, on to this gorgeous bouillabaisse – it's seriously beautiful and the ingredients alone might well make it worthwhile. I love the orange rind, fennel, tarragon, fresh parsley, and of course saffron :) (too funny, I'm featuring saffron on my post as well today – what are the chances?!!). Fantastic post Charles accompanied by your characteristic humour. Loved it! (and the photos too).

    Reply
    • Thanks Kelly – apparently bouillabaisse should normally have Potato too, something I didn't add… oh well. I wonder if the original, when calling for 5 grams of Saffron, was referring to the "fake saffron"? People sometimes confuse turmeric for saffron (can't imagine how, they're not even remotely similar, although they're both quite common in fish dishes) so maybe this explains it. How strange you're doing saffron today too… looking forward to reading your post :)

      Reply
  3. Charles, you are so brave! I would never venture making a bouillabaisse on my own! Not only because of the variety of the fish required, but most of all because every Frenchman from the South will tell you it's difficult to make a great bouillabaisse. I once had an extraordinary bouillabaisse in the South. When it's good, it's really unforgettable! Yours looks certainly very good and I'm sure in the South people make bouillabaisse at home with fewer different fish.
    By the way, fish heads are absolutely the best fish parts for the stock (my Swiss fishmonger sells fish heads for almost nothing and my French fishmonger does the same!).

    Reply
    • Haha, well so far I've been told by two different French people that it's wrong in some way :D I have a weekly fish market near my apartment, but no fishmonger alas, and to be honest, I don't think the fish market would sell me heads… they usually just sell the whole fish, which is a shame because I'm really into "doing things myself" at the moment :)

      Reply
      • Charles, what I call my Swiss fishmonger is a big fish market for restaurants, so for example unfortunately I can't ask them to open and clean small fish for me (although they do this with bigger fish). On the other hand, the variety of their fish is incredible (I have a choice of about 30 different fish varieties and at least ten varieties in fillets!).
        However they also sell fillets and separately heads. If there is a place selling fillets they would sell heads happily (or give it away?). You should talk to them (the best would be while you buy something of course ;-) )
        It's like bones at the butcher's. In theory he doesn't sell bones, but if you ask him, he'll give it for almost nothing or nothing.

        Reply
  4. The pictures look great and that last one is gorgeous! It makes me want to eat it despite the lackluster review (now that's a sign of a good picture!). :) I've heard of bouillabaisse, in fact it's a word I would have said that I know, but I had no idea it was a fish stew. I thought it was a sauce. And Kelly posted about how expensive saffron is too. I've never needed it, so I had no idea – but that's insane how much that costs! Wow! Looks like it was a fun dish to make. Maybe I'll give one a shot the next time I'm in a French restaurant now. :) Have a great weekend Charles!

    Reply
    • Thanks Kristy – my wife wasn't a fan to be honest, but she dislikes fennel, as well as the taste of orange in food. Coupled together it's a sure recipe for anti-success :D It was definitely fun to make though, I'm looking forward to making much more stock and keeping it in the house, especially since it's so easy AND useful! Have a good Sunday :)

      Reply
  5. Such a delicious colorful Bouillabaisse . I can finish the whole bowl. I am saving the recipe to give a try.

    Reply
    • Thanks for stopping by Kankana! Let me know what you think! From my research it seems that a lot of people don't add fennel but it's my understanding that that would just be a "fish soup" after that. The aniseed-like background flavour is important I think! Hope you're having a good weekend :)

      Reply
  6. That's so funny how you put that. I would want to eat this every day!

    Reply
    • Hey Greg – not sure how feasible that would be given the cost of saffron :D You know, with all the advances in technology it's a source of amazement to me that saffron still persists in being so damn freaking expensive. I wonder if I could just grow the crocus flowers myself :D

      Reply
  7. I can't believe I've never heard of this Bouillabaisse dish. It looks incredible. I would definitely try this out with Cod. Love this

    Reply
    • Thanks BG, hope you like it! It's very fragrant and light so not at all hard on the stomach, like some fatty soups! Hope you're having a good day :)

      Reply
  8. Thanks for featuring the steps in photography. It looks like a savory soup that could boost one's appetite.

    Reply
    • Hi Tres Delicious, thanks for stopping by. Indeed it's not heavy on the body. Flavours are aromatic and quite delicate. Hope you're having a good day :)

      Reply
  9. This looks so delicious, I had a good bouillabaisse only once and it was here in Cork, which makes me doubt if its a real one ) I want to go to Marseille and try it there!

    Reply
    • There's actually a place around the corner from my apartment which has "bouillabaisse" as its specialty apparently. Looks like a nice restaurant at any rate… right next to the forest and they have a terrace where you can sit in the amongst the trees and eat. I should go there some time…

      Reply
  10. What a gorgeous soup! Ever since I first learned about this soup in French class way back when, I wanted to try it but haven't had the chance, even when I was in France. The soup looks delicious! It really is too bad how expensive saffron is… I agree with you that with all our technology, they should engineer it somehow and make it cheaper! :)

    Reply
    • Hi Stefanie, thanks for stopping by! I read that each crocus only has 3 filament things, and it always has to be picked by hand – ouch, that's a LOT of work. More expensive per gram than gold I guess :o For people who love lots of seafood and shellfish this soup is really a dream come true… so many flavours in one bowl :D Hope you're having a good weekend!

      Reply

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