Few dishes have been discussed quite as much as bouillabaisse. Is it a soup or is it a stew? Should you drink wine with it, or absolutely not? Some people say that it can’t be a bouillabaisse if it doesn’t contain orange zest, while saffron is a sine qua non. In theory, any kind of sh or seafood can be added, but scorpion fish is essential as it is cooked in the soup, but served separately. Bouillabaisse is a dish from southern France, most famously associated with the port of Marseille – something everyone does seem to agree on. It originated in the fishing communities, being cooked on the beach in copper kettles over a log fire at the end of the day. It was a convenient one- pot dish that made use of all the by-catch the fishermen couldn’t sell. Scorpion fish was one such fish since, rarely eaten, it was worth very little. The first time a recipe for bouillabaisse appeared in print was in a French cookbook, Le Cuisinier Durand. It called for sea bass as an ingredient, a relatively expensive fish that – like saffron – could surely not have been part of the traditional dish. In today’s chic restaurant variations you can even find lobster, but one ingredient still harks back to the dish’s humble origins – scorpion fish – although these days it’s specially caught for bouillabaisse. In other words, it’s a great fish soup recipe and that’s more important than what type of fish you use or where you make it. It’s just as good with hake caught off the English coast.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/GasMark4.
To make the rouille, crush the garlic, using a pestle and mortar, with the cayenne pepper and saffron. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and mix in the egg yolks. Whisk in the olive oil drop by drop and then add the lemon juice. Season to taste with a little salt and extra cayenne pepper. Chill the rouille in the refrigerator.
To make the bouillabaisse, crumble the saffron into the wine in a small bowl. Heat a large pan over a medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook the celery, onion and fennel for about 4 minutes, until translucent but not browned. Add the garlic and tomato purée (paste) and fry for 2 minutes, before adding the tomatoes and bouquet garni. Stir well and leave to simmer for 2 minutes. Add the Pernod, the white wine and saffron, and add the orange zest. Bubble over a low heat until reduced by one-third and then pour in the fish stock. Add the potatoes, reduce the liquid again by one-third and turn down the heat to low.
Meanwhile, bake the baguette slices in the oven for 3–4 minutes on each side until golden brown and crisp.
Add the fish to the bouillabase, put a lid on the pan and leave to simmer over a low heat for 5–7 minutes. Uncover the pan, add the mussels, cover again and cook until all the shells have opened and the potatoes are tender. Discard any broken mussel shells or any that remain tightly closed.
Serve the soup with the rouille and baguette.
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1⁄2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 5 saffron threads
- 2 egg yolks
- 150 ml/5 oz/2/3 cup olive oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 10 saffron threads
- 2 tbsp white wine
- 1 celery stick, finely chopped
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1⁄2 fennel bulb, finely sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp tomato purée (paste)
- 2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
- bouquet garni (sprigs of flat-leaf parsley and thyme with 1 bay leaf, tied together with thin string)
- 2 tbsp Pernod
- zest of 1⁄2 orange, shaved off in strips with a vegetable peeler and any pith removed
- 1 litre/13⁄4 pints/41⁄4 cups fish stock
- 400 g/14 oz potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks
- about 1.6 kg/31⁄2 lb total weight of a mixture of fish and sea- food, for example:
- 500 g/1 lb 2 oz hake, cut into chunks
- 250 g/9 oz weever fish, cleaned
- 500 g/1lb 2 oz red mullet, cleaned
- 300 g/10 oz mussels, in their shells
- salt and pepper
- olive oil
- 1 white baguette, thinly sliced