Although bouillabaisse originally was a simple fisherman's dish, there is no way around the fact that it is quite expensive and labor-intensive for today's cook (this recipe takes about 2 1/2 hours, start to finish). You should buy as many different types of fish as you can, predominantly white-fleshed fish such as cod, pollock, perch, grouper, snapper, monkfish, red snapper and striped bass. It is also nice with an element of flatfish, such as halibut, turbot or flounder.
If you are using fish heads or whole fish for the broth, you must first remove the gills.
This Marseillaise-style bouillabaisse typically is served with rouille, a bread sauce (included in this recipe) and/or aioli and bread. A rouille also may be made with oil and eggs instead of broth and bread crumbs -- more like a garlic and saffron mayonnaise -- but because the soup itself contains a generous amount of oil and there is often also aioli on the table, that seems un peu trop: a bit too much.
It is best made using a mortar and pestle.
Make Ahead: The soup freezes well, so make the whole batch and freeze individual servings in 2-cup containers.
Servings: 8 - 10
- For the soup
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 pounds fish scraps (heads and bones from white fish and flatfish) or whole fish, cleaned; see headnote
- 2 small (5 to 8 ounces total) fennel bulbs (tough outer layers and cores discarded), coarsely chopped
- 2 medium onion, coarsely chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
- 2 or 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 8 cups store-bought fish stock
- 2 14-ounce cans no-salt-added chopped tomatoes, plus their juices
- Pinch saffron threads
- 2 to 3 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder (optional)
- 3 to 4 pounds skin-on or skinless mixed white fish (see headnote)
- For the rouille
- 1 or 2 fresh or dried red Thai chili peppers, stemmed and seeded (if using fresh)
- 2 medium cloves garlic
- 3 to 4 tablespoons plain dried bread crumbs, plus more as needed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/3 cup store-bought fish stock, plus more as needed
For the soup: Heat a little of the oil in a large, heavy soup pot over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers.
Add the fish scraps, fennel, onions and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, until fragrant. Then add the stock, the tomatoes and their juices. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes.
Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, using a spatula to press against the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Return the strained broth to the pot over medium-high heat. Pick the larger pieces of fish off the bones caught in the strainer and add the fish to the pot. (These pieces will more or less disintegrate and help thicken the soup.)
If desired, transfer the strained solids to a blender or food processor and pulse to chop; do not puree. Return to the strainer and press the chopped solids to release more liquid, which can be added to the pot.
Add the saffron, paprika, chili powder, if desired, and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then add the fish and the remaining oil; cook uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, to form a rich soup. Season with salt to taste.
While the soup is cooking, make the rouille: If the chili peppers are dried, soak them in a little water for 15 to 20 minutes. Use a mortar and pestle to pound the chili peppers and garlic together to form a smooth paste.
Gradually add the bread crumbs and give them a good pounding.
Add the oil and then the fish stock little by little while you continue to pound, until you have a smooth, thick paste. Leave for a few minutes, then taste and adjust as necessary (for flavor or consistency); depending on the bread crumbs and how much they absorb, you may add broth or bread crumbs.
Divide the soup among individual bowls, with a dollop of the rouille placed in the center of each portion. Serve immediately.
From Gastronomer columnist Andreas Viestad.
Tested by Edward A. Lichorat.
E-mail questions to the Food Section at firstname.lastname@example.org.