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Bouillabaisse
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 good one.
     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).

 

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First, go to the sea...the Mediterranean Sea.

 

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     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!

L’Escale
Les Goudes
Outside of Marseille on route toward les calanques

L’Escale
Carry-le-Rouet
Overlooking the port of Carry on la cote bleu south of Martigues

La Méditerranée
Place d’Odéon
Paris 6e

 

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La Bouillabaisse en vers...

        Si tu veux du soleil au creux de ton assiette,
        fais une bouillabaisse.
En voici la recette :
       
D'un 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 une bouillabaisse!



Les Poissons de la Bouillabaisse

Rascasse (petite)   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
Moules, mussels   Favouilles (crabes)
Chamri, cigale de mer, cigale crustace

 

 

 

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