It’s that time of year again. When the days get shorter and it gets so cold out that all you really want to do is stay cuddled up under the covers and not go anywhere.

It’s also the time of year where I tend to cook more. Mostly soup/stew dishes. So keeping with that tradition. I made my 1st fall season soup a couple of weeks ago. The French Provençal seafood stew; Bouillabaisse.

It’s fairly certain that whoever cooked the first bouillabaisse did so in a big pot over a hot fire—hence its name, which derives from the words bouillir, to boil, and abaisser, to lower. All authentic bouillabaisse recipes call for the ingredients to be brought to a quick and rapid boil (a “true tempest of fire”, as one recipe puts it). This causes the oil, stock, and fish gelatin in the pot to emulsify into a rich, satisfying broth.

This classic Provençal seafood starts with good olive oil, onions, garlic and is loaded with clams, lobster, mussels and fish in a broth delicately flavored with fennel, tomatoes, saffron, and a bouquet garni. Other potential ingredients include leeks, potatoes, orange peel, etc.  “There are no real rules to this dish except to use what’s fresh,”

In the spirit of the humble Mediterranean fisherman, I recommend using whatever seafood is available where you live. Typically bouillabaisse has two or three kinds of fish, and various shellfish (clams, mussels, shrimp, crabs, languistines, etc.). I ended up using squid, bay mussels, little neck clams, lobster tail, shrimp, cod, and mahi mahi It’s what’s available here in the good old midwest, so that’s what ought to go into the bouillabaisse. You should use whatever you can find.

Ingredients

  • Good olive oil, as needed
  • 4 to 8 thick slices good bread
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 carrot, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 medium new potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 small bulb fennel, trimmed and chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon saffron, optional
  • bay leaves
  • 3 cups lobster stock
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes, with their juice (canned are O.K.)
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 to 1 ½ pounds chopped boneless fish and shellfish, preferably a variety
  • 8 littleneck clams
  • 8 mussels
  • 6 sea scallops
  • 15 squids
  • 1 pound cod fish, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 pound mahi-mahi, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 main lobster tail (remove shell and cut into 1 inch pieces)
  • Chopped fennel fronds, for garnish
  • Chopped basil or parsley, for garnish
  • Rouille, optional

Preparation

  1. Heat oven to 200 degrees; brush bread liberally with olive oil, and bake on a sheet, turning once, until golden and crisp. Set aside.
  2. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil or enough olive oil to make a thick layer (don’t skimp) on the bottom of a Dutch oven, deep skillet or shallow pot. Cook onion, garlic, celery, carrot, potato, fennel, cayenne pepper and saffron until glossy (translucent), about 5 minutes. Add stock and tomatoes and bring to a moderate boil; add the bay leaves. Cook until the vegetables are tender, and the broth is thick and stewy rather than soupy, about 20 minutes. Season to taste; it should be so delicious that you don’t even care whether you add fish. Discard the bay leaves.
  3. Lower heat to a simmer, and, as you add fish, adjust heat so that the liquid continues to bubble gently. Add fish in order of how long they will take to cook. Cod, mahi-mahi and squid are fish that might require more than a few minutes, so add them first. About five minutes later add clams, lobster meat and mussels, holding back any fish that has been cooked or will cook in a flash. When mollusks open, add remaining fish and scallops.
  4. Taste and adjust season. Garnish and serve with croutons and rouille, if you’re using.

Tip

  • To make rouille, add 1/2 cup finely minced roasted, peeled and seeded red bell pepper, 2 cloves finely minced garlic and cayenne to taste to either homemade or store-bought mayonnaise.

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