Bouillabaisse is a Provençal fish stew with a tomato, garlic, saffron, and potato broth thickened and flavored with a rouille—a paste of garlic, chiles, bread crumbs, and olive oil—served with dried bread or croutons. The dish originated in Marseille, according to the culinary encyclopedia Larousse Gastronomique, and “was originally cooked on the beach by fishermen, who used a large caldron over a wood fire to cook the fish that was least suitable for market, such as rascasse (scorpion fish or rockfish)—essential for an authentic bouillabaisse and hardly ever eaten otherwise.”
“The Mediterranean coast is particularly rich in fish soup or stew traditions,” writes Richard Olney in Simple French Food. “Bouillabaisse is never far from mind—the concept representing a sort of absolute value, a yardstick by which other fish stews may be measured.” Indeed, bouillabaisse has become so iconic that there are official rules dictating how to make it and what fish it should contain—in 1980, restaurateurs in Marseille signed a charter to protect the authentic recipe (this charter has since been contested by other “specialists,” according to Larousse). NPR’s Bouillabaisse: A Magical Yet Easy Synthesis explains that La Charte de la Bouillabaisse Marseillaise insists a true bouillabaisse must contain at least four of five fish: chapon, John Dory, monkfish, conger eel, rascasse, and galinette.
However, as the headnote on the bouillabaisse recipe we’re featuring explains, most of the fish on the charter are not available in the United States so the best thing to do is to use the “freshest nonoily fish you can get, preferably three to five different kinds.” This recipe is adapted from one by Emeril Lagasse.
For the broth:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup celery, chopped
- Salt and pepper
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- 8 peppercorns
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 1 pound fish bones
- Water to cover
- 1 cup white wine
For the Bouillabaisse:
- Pinch of Saffron
- 1 cup leeks, julienned
- 3 cups tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- Juice and zest of one orange
- 1 cup fennel, julienned
- 2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper
- 2 pounds assorted small whole fresh fish from the Mediterranean such as whiting, squid, sea bass, scorpion fish, eel, and/or angler fish, cleaned and scaled
- 1 large lobster
- 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1/2 pound mussels
- 1/2 pound littleneck clams
- Salt and pepper
For the Rouille: 1 red pepper, roasted and peeled 2 cloves garlic 1 piece of white bread torn into pieces 1 egg yolk 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard Juice of one lemon Salt and pepper 1/2 cup olive oil Garnish: 12 slices of crusty French bread For the broth: In a large sauce pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and celery. Season with salt and pepper. Saute for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the bay leaves, peppercorns, and thyme. Add the fish bones, water and wine. Bring the liquid to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain.
For the Bouillabaisse: Place the stock on the heat and bring to a simmer. Add the saffron, leeks, tomatoes, orange juice, orange zest, fennel, garlic, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Add the fish and lobsters. Cook for 8 minutes. Add the shrimp, mussels, and clams. Cook for 6 minutes, or until the shells have opened. Discard any shells that do not open. Season with salt and pepper.
For the Rouille: In a food processor, combine all the ingredients, except for the oil. Puree until smooth. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil. Season the emulsion with salt and pepper.
To assemble: Remove the seafood from the pan and place on a large platter. Pour the stock into a serving bowl. Serve the Rouille and crusty bread on the side of the Bouillabaisse. For individual servings, arrange the seafood in a shallow dish. Ladle the stock over the seafood. Drizzle the Rouille over the seafood and serve with the crusty bread.