My LA to L.A. “Bouillabaise” – or Mediterranean Fish Stew
“Mmm- that was good” my brother, Al, said – almost licking his lips. “Is it bouillabaise or cioppino?”
“Well – actually, neither,” I had to respond.
The French are quite particular about what constitutes a true bouillabaise. Famed cooking teacher and cookbook writer, Madeleine Kamman writes these pretty strong words in The New Making of a Cook: The Art, Techniques, And Science Of Good Cooking : “I have tried time and again to obtain a ‘true’ tasting bouillabaise, in this our New World, without ever being able to duplicate it 100 percent… There exists no recipe written which, executed with the fish available in this country, will taste quite like the true Marseilles concoction…”
Julia Child skirts the issue altogether in her cookbook The Way to Cook, and simply calls her fish chowder Santa Barbara Fish Stew (a reference to her home locale in her later years).
And cioppino – not exactly an authentic Italian original, either – was invented in San Francisco by Italian American fishermen, originally as a way to use various leftovers of the day’s catch which usually included a good bit of shellfish, especially the Northern Californian specialty, Dungeness crab.
Whatever you call it, Mediterranean-style fish soup is a very special (yet fairly simple to make) treat. Child recommends using several types of mild flavored white fish (no shellfish) in her recipe, from which mine is adapted, but the beauty of this dish is you can use whatever combination of fish and/or shellfish you like.
Oh- and it’s to be eaten with lots of garlicky Rouille (a condiment we can recreate in this country) heaped on crostini.
Mediterranean Fish Stew
- 2.5 pounds sea bass
- 1 pound mussels (steamed until they open with a samll bit of white wine and 1 large shallot, sliced)
- 1 pound shrimp
- 1/4 cup crushed San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 recipe of Mediterranean Soup Base
- Add the crushed tomatoes to the to the soup after straining the solids from the soup base, for additional texture.
- Add the sea bass and shrimp to hot soup base allowing them to cook in the broth for about 4 to minutes.
- Add the mussels with a few of the sliced shallots.
Mediterranean Fish Soup Base
- 1/2 cup fruity olive oil
- 2 cups onions, sliced
- 8 large cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
- 5 cups chopped tomatoes (I used canned San Marzano tomatoes. If it’s summer and you have fresh vine ripened tomatoes, you may use a combination of chopped fresh tomatoes and canned)
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 3 pinches of saffron threads
- a large strip of orange zest (@ 1×3 inches)
- 1 dried chile pepper (i.e. chile de arbol), minced
- A pinch of allspice
- 2 quarts Shrimp Stock
- Sea salt
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the onions, and saute 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently until they are tender, but not brown.
- Stir in the garlic, tomatoes and seasonings. Let the mixture simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, then add the shrimp stock.
- Allow the soup to simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Strain the solids out through a food mill, or using a strainer, pressing the juices out with the back of a spoon. Add sea salt, to taste.
@ 8 servings
- 1 whole egg
- 1 egg yolk
- @1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 scant teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 large cloves garlic (or more if you are brave)
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup canola oil
- 1 heaping tablespoon roasted red pepper pureé
- 1-2 basil leaves, julienned
- A pinch of cayenne
- Freshly ground white pepper and kosher salt
- Add egg and yolk to food processor bowl. Pour the lemon juice over them and let sit for 10 minutes.
- Mince the garlic, then sprinkle @ 1 teaspoon kosher salt over it, and mash to a paste. Add it to the eggs and yolks, mustard, red pepper puree, basil and cayenne.
- Slowly drizzle the oil in through feed tube of the food processor, until an emulsion forms.
- Season with more cayenne, white pepper and/or salt, to taste