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Don’t think my love for Julia subsided, far from it, it’s just taking off!

Today I took on the challenge of recreating one of Julia Child’s recipes from her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And a challenge it was.

Bouillabaisse (I can’t even spell it without starring at the word, forget about pronouncing it correctly!) is a Mediterranean fisherman’s soup.  It’s full of fresh flavor with a mixture of herbs and spices that compliment the fish perfectly.  Nowadays it’s known as one of the most exquisite dishes, however, it began as a commoners meal composed of leftover fish combined with the flavorings of the region, including, olive oil, garlic, onions, tomatoes and herbs.

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Now I am not a fisherman but I wanted to get a close look at what fishers did.  I got to watch people pull up everything from small cod to a frog-like sea creature. I also got a peek at the boats that fisherman take out to the ocean.  The construction of the boats are so intricate. It gave me a new appreciation for fisherman.

In her book, Julia describes that there should be equal quantities of firm-fleshed fish like halibut, eel and winter flounder and tender flaky fish like hake, baby cod, small pollock and lemon sole in the soup.  The medley of fish introduces a diversity of flavors and textures which all add to the Bouillabaisse experience.

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Unfortunately the grocery store I go to (which is known for its fish selection…? not today) only had cod and overpriced halibut.  So I just ended up with 4 pounds of cod. Whatcha gonna do…

But don’t get me wrong the soup was still spectacular! The stock gave just the right hints of saltiness to compliment the flaky white cod while not being overpowering.  The idea of the sauce or stock complimenting the meal rather than overpowering the meal is essential in French cooking.  There are many heavy sauces and flavors that are used in french cooking, however, the point of the heavy sauces is to compliment the dish.  These sauces are used to enhance the flavor of the dish; making the meat or fish or vegetable taste almost like it has been risen to a higher dimension instead of having it taste like the sauce used to flavor it. Only a slight amount of sauce is used to top each entree. There is no drowning chicken in butter or covering steak in barbecue sauce in french cooking. Only in America. Oh America…my country tis of thee.

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With the soup Julia suggests to serve toasted french bread and Rouille.  Rouille is a mixture of peppers (sweet and spicy), garlic, herbs and olive oil. It is served aside the soup and added, a tablespoon or so, by each person into their individual dish.  I really liked the rouille.  The spices from it added a deeper taste.  It’s not only great spooned into the soup but it also can be enjoyed spread atop a piece of hard-toasted french bread. Maybe with some grilled chicken and spinach it could compliment a wonderful sandwich…this rouille is going places!

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Alright now that we got all the accouterments for the soup lets get cooking!

Alright, now I’m not gonna lie this is a labor intensive meal.  A lot of chopping, watching and waiting, but I promise if your patient and determined you will come out with a delicious fisherman’s soup gourmet enough for a fancy dinner party.

Bouillabaisse

Ingredients

For the fish stock (aka Soupe de Poisson)

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  • 1 cup onions, minced
  • 3/4 cup leek, minced or 1/2 cup more onions, minced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves mashed garlic
  • 1 lb of ripe, red tomatoes roughly chopped
  • 2 1/2 quarts water
  • 6 parsley sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • 1/8 tsp fennel
  • 2 pinches of saffron
  • 2 inch piece of orange peel*
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1 Tb salt
  • 1 fish head**

Directions

For the fish stock

  1. Cook the onions and leeks slowly in love oil for 5 minutes, until almost tender but not browned
  2. Stir in the garlic and tomatoes, raise heat to moderate and cop 5 minutes more
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook uncovered at a moderate boil for 30 to 40 minutes
  4. Strain the soup into a saucepan, pressing juices out of ingredients, return to a rapid boil

Ingredients

For the Bouillabaisse

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  • 4-5lbs of assorted lean fish

Directions

For the Bouillabaise

  1. Once stock has returned to a rapid boil add firm fleshed fish including haibut, eel and winter flounder and cook for 5 minutes
  2. Add tender fleshed fish including hake, baby cod, small pollock and lemon sole and continue boiling for 5 minutes
  3. Immediately lift out the fish and arrange on a platter separately from the stock

Ingredients

For the Rouille

  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 chili pepper
  • 1 potato, peeled chopped roughly
  • 4 cloves garlic, mashed
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 4 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tb hot soup

Directions

For the Rouille

  1. Boil water in a medium sauce pan and add the potato, bell pepper and chili pepper.
  2. Take out the peppers after 10 minutes and chop roughly and place in a food processor
  3. After the potato has been boiling for 15-20 minutes or until fork tender, take out and add to food processor
  4. Add garlic and basil to food processor and process until smooth
  5. Slowly add the olive oil while processing
  6. Just before serving add the hot soup 1 Tb at a time and place in a serving bowl

Directions

For serving

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  1. Place 2 slices of hard toasted french bread in the bottom of each serving dish***
  2. Spoon just a Tb or so of the stock into each dish just to moisten the bread
  3. Add a variety of the fish to each dish
  4. Fill until 3/4 of the fish is covered with the stock
  5. Top with a dollop of the rouille
  6. A small side salad accompanies this meal well

Notes

  • * For the orange peel in the stock make sure to cut off all the white parts just allowing the bright orange rind to remain. Putting the white part of the rind into the stock will make it bitter and all around unpleasant
  • ** When I picked up the fish I asked the fish butcher if he had any leftover heads and he cut me off a huge salmon head for FREE!!! So talk to your fish butcher, tell him your making a Bouillabaisse, he will probably give you some advice on which fish to buy and maybe a free salmon head!
  • *** Make sure to get good fresh baguettes or make your own Whole-Wheat French Bread. Lightly sprinkle with olive oil and flaky salt and toast in a pre-heated 350 degree F oven for 10 minutes or until very crispy
  • Adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking
  • The original recipe calls for 6-8 lbs of assorted lean fish, however, I fed 5 hungry people with a bunch of leftovers with just 4 lbs (which was still expensive)

Alright so there it is, Bouillabaisse.  Dramatic and ingenious.  A process that you will never regret you took on.  Now go open up for kitchen to all your friends and impress them with this fisherman’s soup.  Yet, again I will finish in Julia Child style…Bon Appétit!

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