Bouillabaisse [bujabes] - a traditional Provencal fish stew originating from the port city of Marseille
It is Good Friday morning and I am in the kitchen preparing to celebrate this important Christian event with my sons, daughter in law and grand children, I have Bouillabaisse and Pavlova on the menu, which we will sit down together and enjoy this evening.
Bouillabaisse is my favourite all time dish to make, it does not feature very often on our menu for a number of reasons, it is an expensive dish to make, you need time to make it properly and you need a crowd to sit down and enjoy it together. Being that it is Good Friday, it fits the “no meat” brief perfectly and it is such a special dish, the day is deserving of it, being the very special day it is.
There is another fantastic thing about this dish, you can do all the hard work early having everything ready so that when your guests arrive all you need do is reheat the beautiful seafood stock/soup, add the seafood piece by piece and it is ready to eat in around fifteen minutes, spoon it into bowls, dish out large servings of toasted bread and your good to go, love it.
I am 3 hours into my cooking, and just as I was about to strain the stock off, a damsel in distress put out a call for help, her car had a flat battery and as luck would have it, she had not found out until after she had packed the car to the hilt for a trip down south for a family holiday. I simply turned the stove off and took off to assist her, job done I returned home and picked up where I left off, now how many dishes can you do that with? Again the fact it is a holiday and I have plenty of time made a big difference.
You begin making the stock by sautéing a sliced up leek with an onion, fennel bulb and half a bunch of garlic, cooking for about 6-7 minutes, then adding a can of chopped tomato, 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, a few sprigs of thyme, a couple of bay leaves, some peppercorns, a couple of teaspoons of cumin seeds, a few star anise and the grated rind of an orange, this is stirred while it cooks until the volume reduces by half, the aromas whilst cooking this are amazing.
Now you add in two crabs that have been cleaned of the dead man’s fingers and broken into 3 or 4 pieces, put the whole crab including the mustard in its head, the mustard has lots of flavour, cook for 5-6 minutes then add in some fish bones, I brought two whole fish for this dish, which I filleted, the carcasses when into the stock.
The flavours in Bouillabaisse are magnificent every mouthful as you eat meal makes you yearn for more, there is so much depth in the finished broth, it truly is a wonderful experience to sit with a bowl of this gorgeous seafood stew and a chunk of toasted crunchy bread, heaven.
After cooking the vegetables and seafood down you add a full bottle of white wine to the pot, Jo could not believe it as she watched me pour the contents of the whole bottle into the brew, the wine is mixed in well with the vegetables and then cooked on a simmer until reduced by half, then you add 2 litres of water, bring the pot to the boil, then reduce to simmer for an hour.
Whilst the stock is simmering away you have time to skin the fish fillets, trim the legs of the prawns and de-beard the mussels that will be included just before serving, there are also potatoes to steam, steaming the potatoes before adding them to the broth makes them more receptive of soaking up the YUM YUM, steam them with the skin on, peel them when cooked and straight into the pot.
After the stock has simmered for that hour, strain the solids off, pound the crabs to a paste, I used my pestle and it worked well, you could bung it into the food processor but why create extra work when a bit of elbow grease will do the job! Once they’re crushed down add the stock back mix in well and then strain the solids off again, this is done to extract as much flavour as possible from the crabs, fish and vegetables, the solids are then discarded.
Now add a heaped teaspoon of saffron, some salt (be generous with the salt) and some cayenne pepper to taste, bring back to a simmer and the stock is now ready, you can leave it here and reheat later or continue on and begin adding in the fish, potatoes and other seafood.
I added the potatoes and then turned the pot off, coming back to check the taste about every fifteen minutes thereafter, not that I needed to, it tasted great, hence the several consequential checks!
Garlic and capsicum mayonnaise served with the Bouillabaisse which is spread on the crusty toasted bread, the mayo is made from a little baked potato, red capsicum, garlic, egg yolks, lemon juice, saffron threads a pinch of cayenne pepper and olive oil, all the ingredients are blended together to make this rich creamy mayonnaise, it is beautiful.
Having everything prepared including the Pavlova and its topping by three o’clock, gave me time to lay down for an hour for a poppy nap, very relaxing way to spend the afternoon after a busy morning.
The fish I choose to use included a Red Throat Emperor, a Red Coral Rock Cod, Exmouth King Prawns, Shark Bay Prawns, Blue Swimmer Crabs, Mussels, and a little Squid.
You add the seafood to the simmering stock starting with the fish that will take the longer cooking time adding the other pieces within the cooking time of the first, get it right and everything will be beautifully cooked, I added the squid and smaller prawns a little early, so they had shrunk by the time they hit the bowl, but overall I was happy with the final result.
While we waited for my son Ryan to arrive, Jo readied the bread grilling one side then buttering the other side and then grilling that, by the time he arrived there was a huge plate full resting in the oven, when it came to the table I thought there is no way we’ll get through that, but I had forgotten just how good it is soaking up the broth with the crunchy bread and before we were done I was cutting more bread for the table.
I learnt on the night the only seafood my daughter in-law likes is fish, I knew she did not eat prawns but mussels and crabs came as a surprise, given the broth was based on a crab bisque had her plate looking very grim with only fish and potatoes to eat, however as it turned out even she loved the flavours and when offered more fish, she requested that it come with some of the broth and a slice of bread, I wasn’t at all surprised when her bowl was emptied and she was complaining of having eating too much, that’s just the way it is with Bouillabaisse!