Tuesday, October 16, 2007


So the little 'teaser' that Magnetic Media filmed for most of today for the Idea for the networks (Style, HGTV, Bravo?), is over. It's a ton of bricks off my mind. It was huge fun and so in thanks I am offering, instead of a prayer, a recipe for bouillabaisse. It's logical.

I have promised bouillabaisse with all the frills (i.e. crabclaws) to Molly as a reward for her time and considerable charm today, and I owe Marijke a recipe for the saffron she gave me in Cape Town in September. But first I will quote the oracle, Elizabeth David, because it's worth hearing what oracles have to say before charging off in the opposite direction.

Bleep. My memory let me down: Elizabeth David has four tightly spaced pages on the subject. Forget it - too much typing. I'll just bite the mullet and give you my recipe, which changes a bit every time I do it, along with mood, weather, and fishmarkets I frequent.

This is not an authentic bouillabaisse. There may not be one authentic bouillabaisse, but this is authentically mine. The biggest trick, or truc, if there is one, is many different kinds of fish, and not oily fishy like mackeral, sardines...snoek, if you're in the Cape: Use white-fleshed fish, rockfish. And if you can get them, and in New York we can, rouget, the little red Mediterranean fish, and if you are in....Tokyo, or Provence, get rascasse. They are considered the backbone and heart, soul, etc. of bouillabaisse. But enough blathering.

If you have a free day you can make this in one day, or half, since you must buy the fish the same day. If not, make the stock ahead and freeze or start again the next day. Be warned: This is not a short process, nor is it cheap, either (though another version can be). It is special. And the result is worth every minute of preparation.

There are two parts to this: Making the stock, and making the finished bouillabaisse

For about 6

Stock (or the soul of the soup)

1 each of three different kinds of fish, with heads, bones, etc, cleaned, scaled and roughly chopped. You can fillet these fish and save the fillets for adding to the soup later, but then you must make the whole thing on the same day.

e.g. snapper, John Dory, rouget, branzino (SA: elf, kabeljou, yellowtail...)

1 1/2 lbs of shrimp, with shells, and preferably heads. Shell and clean the shrimp, keep tails for soup and reserve shells and heads for stock. This is not optional. The shrimp shells give a rich flavour to the bouillabaisse.

1 lobster if you are rich, two if you know a diver, or are richer. Reserve tail meat and keep the chopped body and head. No, the green stuff isn't icky, it's good. It's the tomale. Liver, OK? Keep it. Throw away the gritty sac. though (no, you can't be squeamish). Also discard the dead man's fingers (lungs, blegh...OK, a little squeamish).

4 Tbsp olive oil
3 large onions, chopped finely
1 head (not clove, head) of garlic chopped finely
2 bulbs fennel, chopped, yes, finely
6 tomatoes, skinned, chopped, not finely
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 bottles of good white wine, not wooded, slightly fruity, but dry. It has got to be wine you would drink, and would be very nice if it is the wine you will drink...
3 bay leaves
3 sprigs thyme
1 bunch parsley
10 peppercorns
1 Tbsp sugar

- A very healthy splash of olive oil into a large stock pot. Add onions, then garlic, saute for about 5 minutes of medium to low heat, till translucent.
- Increase heat to at least medium and add fennel and cook another 5. Stir not to brown.
- Add chopped fish heads and bones, and prawn and lobster shells.
- Stir everyone nicely so they're all in contact with the heat.
- Add tomatoes and tomato paste, stir again.
- Add herbs and peppercorns and sugar.
- Toss in two bottles of wine or until everything is covered. Add water if necessary. It will probably be quite necessary.
- Bring to the boil and reduce so that it's simmering (lots of steam, surface barely shaking) and skim off any scum that rises.

Clean the kitchen.

The stock should cook for about an hour. Taste it at this time and add salt. Through a sieve, pour all the stock into a big bowl. You'll have to do this in batches, as the sieve fills up with Bits. Push all these Bits very hard against the mesh to get every little drop out. In my extreme moments I have put Bits into a blender. I also broke the blender - but the idea is to get every ounce of goodness out of the Bits.

OK - now you have a bowlful of stock. At this point I commit another heresy. I reduce it. Just by about a fifth. Which means you put it back into the big, now clean pot, back on high heat and bring it back to a boil, then reduce to a serious simmer and let it do that for about...35 minutes. Its level will drop. Er, that's why it's called reducing. It concentrates flavour. Taste.

There is an alternative and since I'm going to hell already, I can tell. It's...chicken stock. Real is best...but a c-c-c-cube does wonders. A good cube. Phew, I feel unburdened. I would say I have done it 33.3% of the time (once every three years, in other words) when, for some reason the stock just doesn't taste...right. Full, rounded...like chicken??? No! Just...full, rounded, very nice.

Where were we? Oh, OK. So the stock's done. Have a drink. At this point you can cool it and freeze for another time when you buy fish fillets, shrimp tails etc separately, or carry right on if it is going to be dinner.

For the Finished Bouillabaisse

- 1 Large pinch saffron
- 6 medium fillets from two or pref. three kinds of white fish, like or from the fish, above. They must be sliced into pieces, not too small. Bear in mind that the biggest pieces will take longest to cook and will be added a little earlier than the small pieces....personally, I like the skin off. Boiled fish skin. Brrrr.
- 1 1/2 lbs prawns or shrimp, either in the shell, cleaned; or the naked bodies; or entire, still cleaned but with head - this last will add an additional deliciousness to the soup, if you go for it. The quantity is worked out by figuring how many each person may like to eat. If you splurge and get langoustes, one each, tigerprawns, one or two, etc.
- if you are having lobster, the tail meat, and claw meat, if you live where lobsers have claws.
- for superdeluxe version, dungeoness crab claws, and VERY fresh lump crab meat. This is added last.
- cockles or very little clams, about 1 1/2 lbs, de-sanded by soaking in fresh water for ten minutes.
- mussels, same and debearded, and only if you have a super-reliable fish person or local tidal rock. Mussels have made me very very seeck more than once (but never from my own bouillabaisse!)

Now before you start the final stage, some helpful hints:

Make sure you have invited people you really like to dinner. Then make sure they may and will and can eat shellfish (most unkosher this dish and lethal, too, to those allergic). If you have things with shells that need to be cracked, buy claw crackers. If you don't have claw crackers don't have things with shells. Have very big napkins, preferably of the pretty dishcloth variety. They will get stained. Farewell my lovely damask. Have very good bread. Make it into toasts, or serve hot and crusty. Have aioli, or better, rouille. No, I'm not giving the recipe here, this is already ridiculously long.

So, you have stock. You have beautiful fish. Your fish is already cut up on plates in the fridge. Your stock is simmering. Everything else is ready. Your wine is chilling, there's a green salad for later, or before if you must, and poached pears or roasted peaches depending on your season, for dessert.

To your simmering stock, in the now famous pot, add your large pinch of saffron. Then add the pieces of fish that look the biggest. Then the small guys. Add the cockles and mussels last* (as you're doing this increase the heat because the cold fish will take heat out of the pot and slow everything down). When these shellfish have opened, it's ready. Throw out any you see that stay closed.

* If you have small prawns or lobster tail cut into pieces, or crab meat add these last - sinful to overcook them.

Serve in wide bowls, giving everyone a bit of everything. Dunk bread. Slather rouille or aoili (sometimes I stir some in - yet more heresy, before serving) on the bread. Drink icy white wine. Be very happy to be eating this with people you like.

That is, give or take a carrot, a stick of celery (not necessary but I've done it, see below), one more or fewer fish, It.

This is a picture of a recent one I made, perhaps very rashly, for a Proven├žal native...

On wine.

I prefer a New Zealand Sauvignon blanc for this, but also South African Chenin blanc (I find the S/blancs too acidic, with rare exceptions), or a Rose from the south or France. Actually, whatever you like to drink is fine. But nothing wooded.

Variations: I sometimes add a healthy slosh of Pernod to the fennel and vegetables while they are cooking. If you do this, choose a fruiter wine.

The End.


  1. Mmm. I am exhausted just reading the recipe....

  2. Jay: Yes, building the pyramids of Egypt must have been much quicker. My hopes of ever cooking a bouillabaisse myself have been shredded to pieces...

    Marie: "... instead of a prayer, a recipe for bouillabaisse. It's logical." I know someone who would have been so proud of you. :-)

  3. Oh Marie, and now you have made me weep. " Ek's n dapper muis, kyk hoe stap ek deur die huis, en daar's NIKS waarvoor ek skrik nie....."
    And Beence, you are a kind man.

  4. Jay! Why did I make you weep? The 'rashly'???

    Anton sang that at Willem Postma, his junior school in Bloemfontein, for a concert(I wasn't born yet, but my father has recreated the performance many times) when he was little. Ek's 'n dapper dapper muis, kyk hoe STAP ek deur die huis, en daar's NIKS! waarvoor ek. Skrik. Nie!

    Sidebar: My mom told me that my dad told her, after I'd skittered down a scary ski-slope (where he, the skier, had fallen),that, Jou dogter het nie 'n bang haar op haar kop nie.

    Best compliment I never got...sniff.

  5. No...It was the Petra Muller quote?

  6. Beence (sweetheart!)- thank you...

  7. My god - it IS an epistle. But it looks like fun. Am going to try it sone day soon. I think I'd have to make 200 liters of bouillabaise to make a dent in my saffron supply ...

    Today: the organic veggie box arrived with broad beans. Eesh - I've never been very partial to them, and have certainly never cooked them myself. But then I remembered a broad bean pasta that an italian dame served me. So I made my own version with crispy bacon, bb's cooked with butter, chives and parsley - mixed into the pasta with parmesan on top. it wasn't bad - even good. Here's to cooking.

  8. Oooh I LOVE broad beans. Just shelled + cooked with a bunch of mint and (or) dill, maybe a rasher of bacon or pancetta, pinch of sugar, olive oil, a little water, and lemon juice. becomes a little syrupy.

  9. Egad, woman...I'm done in! Elizabeth David herself couldn't have put it better. I always say, the best kind of recipe is a story, not a list. Thanks for the story - I will have to reenact it myself sometime. Alas, I'm still struggling with my roasted vegetables soup leftovers. Although last night I popped some back in a blender with a healthy splosh of white wine (dare I say it...Oyster Bay). It thinned the soup out and added such lovely flavor. Viva leftovers!!!


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