Bouillabaisse

I made this classic French stew back in December. My parents and grandmother were coming into town and I wanted to make a special dinner to celebrate the occasion. I also had to work the day that they were coming for dinner and as such, didn’t have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen.

Bouillabaisse fit the bill. I spent a little over an hour on the fish stock and broth the day before and on Saturday night, while everyone sipped cocktails, chunks of fish, jumbo scallops, tiny clams, juicy shrimp, and lobster went into the pot to cook. A memorable and delicious dinner was ready in minutes.

I’ve thought about that bowl of stew ever since, but haven’t found the time to hunt down several varieties of seafood or buy the delicate fish bones needed to make a fish stock. In short, I needed to come up with a recipe for weeknight bouillabaisse instead of the “putting on the Ritz, nothing but the best” weekend version.

I believe this recipe fits the bill. Yes, it would be that much better if you made the fish stock from scratch, but if you decide to cheat with a store-bought seafood broth don’t skip doctoring it up with the extra ingredient listed below. While adding a few more minutes to the prep time, these simple additions elevate the stew from ho-hum to praise-worthy.

Quality is important here so seek out the best seafood you can find. While traditionally bouillabaisse is a fish stew, any type of shellfish is a wonderful addition and will not elicit complaints from guests. The rouille on top is also a must. It’s a humble sauce of bread crumbs, garlic, cayenne, and olive oil, but it does big things in the bowl. Don’t omit it. And finally, if using monkfish in your stew, be sure to take off the gray membrane with a fillet knife (see pictures below). If the membrane is left on, the monkfish will become tough as it cooks. Happy cooking!

Bouillabaisse – Printer Friendly Recipe
Serves 4

For the broth:
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ small yellow onion, chopped
½ fennel bulb, chopped
½ cup dry white wine
Juice from ½ lemon
4 cups store-bought less sodium seafood stock

For the bouillabaisse:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14.5 ounce) can fire roasted diced tomatoes
½ lb red potatoes
1/3 cup chopped fennel fronds
Pinch of saffron threads
2 tablespoons minced parsley, more for garnish
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 lbs firm white fish (e.g. grouper, red snapper, monkfish), skin removed cut into 2-inch pieces

For the rouille:
½ cup day-old breadcrumbs from a loaf of bread
1 ½ tablespoons water
2 garlic cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground red “cayenne” pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

For the broth:
In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the yellow onion and fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft (about 5 minutes). Add the white wine and bring to a boil. Add the lemon juice and seafood stock and bring to a simmer. Cover the saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain the stock and discard the solids. Set aside.

For the bouillabaisse: In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the yellow onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft (about 3 to 5 minutes). Stir in the garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the diced tomatoes and their juices and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the red potatoes, the fennel fronds, a pinch of saffron, and parsley. Add the broth to the pot and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes then season to taste with salt and pepper. Five minutes before you are ready to eat add the fish to the pot. Simmer gently until cooked through.

For the rouille:
Place the garlic cloves, salt and cayenne in a mortar. Pound the ingredients with the pestle until the garlic is a paste. Add the water and breadcrumbs and use the pestle to incorporate all of the ingredients. Slowly add the olive oil. Divide the soup between 4 bowls and place a dollop of rouille in the middle of each. Garnish with the minced parsley and serve immediately.


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