How do you pronounce it? What does it mean? What the heck is it?
Like chili in the southwestern US, bouillabaisse
has humble origins, a hundred different recipes, and is the subject of
much heated discussion and criticism. This Mediterranean fish stew is as
much an event as a dish, and it’s well worth a little effort to find a
First, how to pronounce it (fluidly): buoy-ya-bess.
Second, the word’s meaning: bring to a hearty boil, then lower the
heat – bouiller, puis baisser le feu… Third, how to make or
where to find the humble but hearty dish?
Across ports all over the Mediterranean, for
centuries, this soupe de poisson has been an important part of
local cuisine. Originally unsold or unsellable market fish (and whatever
herbs, spices and vegetables hanging around as well) were thrown into a
big pot at the end of the day to feed the fisherman, his family, and his
helpers. Today, a good bouillabaisse is hard to find, at least according
to the experts. It has become fashionable and ubiquitous. These days
quality is the watchword, particularly the quality of the fish.
Alors, start with four or five types of
fish: big fish should be cleaned and cut up, smaller fish can be left
whole. Add olive oil, herbs and spices, garlic, onion, fennel, saffron,
orange zest or a dried orange rind, maybe a bit of chopped tomato, and
almost anything else you might like. Cook, cook, cook…turning the heat
up to bring it to a good boil, then letting it simmer until the tastes
are well combined. Remove the fish (which will not necessarily be pretty
but will be delicious). Start the meal by serving a good helping of
rich, steaming broth, with aïoli, rouille and croutons. Second course
is the fish itself, again with aïoli, rouille and plenty of bread.
Don’t forget a good southern wine, perhaps a white from Cassis or a
Cote de Provence rose. Voilà, la bouillabaisse.
Marseille is the reputed home of bouillabaisse,
but every seaside town, every region, every person has his, her or its
own version of the concoction. In Toulon they might add mussels and
potatoes; Parisians are scorned for adding langoustines; in Martigues
tiny cuttlefish (almost octopus) and potatoes are an important
ingredient; sardines, pastis, white beans, eels, even snails can be part
of the mix as well. One thing is universally agreed upon: a true
bouillabaisse must include the native rascasse (scorpionfish).
First, go to the sea...the Mediterranean Sea.
We found a little French
ditty that lovingly expresses how to make a bouillabaisse, which we
display à droit for your enjoyment. And as for fish, there’s a
partial list of what you might find in a bouillabaisse.
As for where to get a good one, we’ve heard
that you should expect pay at least 200 francs (about 30-35 euros) for a
good bouillabaisse. If less expensive, beware! In cafes and restaurants
along the Mediterranean ports, you take your chances. We’ve had luck
with a few great spots that have been recommended by locals or good
guidebooks. Mostly, it’s an adventure in good eating that is not to be
missed. Bon appétit!
Outside of Marseille on route toward les calanques
Overlooking the port of Carry on la cote bleu south of Martigues
Bouillabaisse en vers...
tu veux du soleil au creux de ton assiette,
fais une bouillabaisse.
voici la recette :
demi-verre d'huile arrose ton faitout
Un peu d'aïl écrasé (quatre gousses en tout)
Trois oignons émincés et divers aromates
En hachis sans pépins deux pulpes de tomates
Thym, fenouil et persil, laurier, zeste d'orange
Les tronçons de poissons qu'artistement tu ranges
(Grondis, crabe ou langouste, et puis rascasse et vive)
Recouvre d'eau bouillante et cuis à flamme vive.
Quand soupoudré de sel, de poivre et de safran
Le mélange a bouilli, cinq minutes durant,
Quand sous l'ardente flamme, il prend déjà de l'âme
Ajoute aussi longtemps: loup,
saint-pierre et merlan
Puis, sur tranches de pain, passe le jus brûlant
Tandis que sur le plat tout le poisson se dresse.
Ton chef-d'oeuvre est fini: c'est
Poissons de la Bouillabaisse
Chapons de mer (grande rascasse)
Rouget de roches, barbets
Fielas, congre, murenne
Vives, araignées, weavers
St. Pierre, John Dory
Petit boeuf, rascasse blanche, star gazers
Baudroie, lotte, monkfish or anglerfish
Roquet, la vieille
Galinette, rouget grand
, mussels Favouilles (crabes)
cigale de mer, cigale crustace