Monday, April 5, 2010

Poor fishermens' stew

Bouillabaisse, the Marseilles fishermens stew, is my old friend Y.'s pride, joy, and a holiday special. It's is a lot of work, but the result is a perfectly balanced, fragrant, and totally delicious festive dish. Y. kindly allowed me to help with the prep, and to document the process.

Y. says he tried dozens of recipes (Y. is the type who is most comfortable following a written recipe), and this one is the winner. Y. has modified it only slightly. Since the recipe doesn't come up in search results and is very difficult to find, I'm going to write it down here, before it dissapears completely.

For the broth:
1 tsp butter
Shrimp shells and heads
white fish trimmings, heads and bones
1 teaspoon of fennel seed
3 bay leaves
small bunch of parsley, whole
1 teaspoon salt
several grinds of black pepper

For the soup base:
2/3 cup of olive oil
2 or 3 large onions, chopped
10 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seed, or a small bulb of fennel, chopped
½ cup parsley, chopped fine
1 teaspoon salt
1 large can crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons thyme
3 strips of peel from an orange, about ½" X 3", orange part only, no white flesh
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon saffron (yes, a teaspoon of saffron, beleive it or not!)
2 teaspoons harissa sauce
one pound of inexpensive fish fillets (we used tilapia)

For the garlic mayonnaise:
one egg yolk
2 or 3 cloves of minced garlic
about 1 cup of olive oil
salt to taste

For the croutons:
a small baguette
¼ pound of gruyere cheese, grated

To garnish:
1 pound shrimp
1 pound scallops
1 pound seabass fillet, cut into bite-size pieces
1 pound red snapper fillet, cut into bite-size pieces
2 dozen clams or mussels

Make the broth:

Heat the butter in a large skillet. Sautee the shrimp heads and shells until fragrant, about 5 minutes.

In a large pot, combine shrimp shells and heads, fish trimmings, fennel seeds, bay leaves, and parsley. Add 2 quarts of water, season with salt and pepper, bring to a boil, and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Strain the broth, discard the solids.

Make the soup:

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add onions, garlic, parsley, and fennel seeds. Cook to soften the onions and garlic. Add the tomatoes, thyme, orange rind, bay leaves, black pepper, saffron and harissa. Cook for about 20 minutes. Add the fish filets and cook until the fish is done.

Remove and set aside the bay leaves and orange rind. Puree the soup in a blender in small batches. Return to the pot, add the orange rinds and bay leaves, and simmer another 30-45 minutes. Watch the color develop from bright yellow to a beautiful brick-red. Adjust the seasoning.

While the soup is cooking, thinly slice and lightly toast the bread and make the mayonnaise:
In a medium bowl, combine the egg yolk with garlic, and beat with a whisk or a mixer with a whisk attachement until the egg yolk turns pale yellow color. Start adding the oil, first by a drop, then by half-teaspoon, whisking constantly. Add salt to taste.

5 minutes before serving, add the clams or mussels to the simmering soup, bring back to the simmer, then add the scallops and fish.
Cook gently until the fish is just cooked through and the clams and mussels have opened.
(Serve them a little salad while they wait)
To serve, spread a little of the mayonnaise on the toasts and dip the toasts into the grated cheese.

Place two or three toasts into each soup bowl, and laddle the stew over them.

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