Every regional cuisine located next to the sea has a stew or soup recipe featuring assorted seafood. There are more variations in the list of ingredients (local seafood and aromatics) than in the cooking methods. More or less, the idea is to make an intensely flavored stock with lower quality seafood first. After it is strained, higher quality seafood is cooked in it for serving.
“The name bouillabaisse comes from the method of the preparation — the ingredients are not added all at once. The broth is first boiled (bolh) then the different kinds of fish are added one by one, and each time the broth comes to a boil, the heat is lowered (abaissa).” – wiki
Besides the particular selection of bony Mediterranean coastal fish and Provençal herbs and spices for the stock, Bouillabaisse has some serving rules.
“[…]to me the telling flavor of bouillabaisse comes from two things: the Provençal soup base — garlic, onions, tomatoes, olive oil, fennel, saffron, thyme, bay, and usually a bit of dried orange peel — and, of course, the fish — lean (non-oily), firm-fleshed, soft-fleshed, gelatinous, and shellfish.”
“The fish are served on a platter, and the broth in a tureen, and you eat both together in large soup plates.”
(Julia Child, The French Chef Cookbook., Knopf, 1968)
“Serve the bouillon very hot with the rouille in soup plates with thick slices of country bread rubbed with garlic. Then serve the fish and the potatoes.
(Jean-Louis André, Cuisines des pays de France, Éditions du Chêne, 2001)
Here is a question — do we dare to make Provençal-style fish stew in Central Texas with the fish coming from H Mart and call it Bouillabaisse if we follow the cooking method? Also, what ingredients can bring us closer to the taste and texture and which oneы can be substituted? At school, we made Bouillabaisse- and Cioppino-like stews to utilize the leftovers at the end of our seafood block. With the same fish/mollusks/crustation, it was easy to see what make the Bouillabaisse to stand apart — fennel (bulb and tops), orange (juice and peel), saffron and tomatoes (for the color), Pernod or Pastis (an anise-flavored apéritif from France).
How To Choose Seafood Ingredients
Make your seafood stock from scratch. It is the most efficient way to approach bouillabaisse from any point of view — the cost, the logistics, and the taste. Get the whole fish and crustation. It is also cheaper. You’ll have heads, shells, and carcasses for the stock saving bite-size fillets for serving. Do you know how to fillet a fish or prep a lobster or prawn? If not, ask your fishmonger to do that for you. Alternatively, make a stock with whole seafood and buy prepped for cooking seafood separately. It will be more expensive, but less stressful for a novice.
The more variety, the better. The best place in ATX to get all the ingredients you need for making a bouillabaisse is H Mart. It includes seafood and vegetables.
Making Bouillabaisse: Seafood Assortment for the Fish Stew
Breaking the recipe into two stages and making stock in advance is a smart idea because once you have it reserved, everything else can be a matter of minutes. The truth is, you can get an excellent shrimp (~$7/lb), fresh clams or mussels (~$5/lb), sea scallops (~$10/lb), lobster tails (~$5 per tail), and suitable lean fish fillets (~$10/lb) at any local HEB. It also means you can enjoy just 2-4 portions of bouillabaisse at a time serving it within 25 minutes.
For small amounts, use mortar and pestle, for large — small food processor or hand-held blender. Make garlic paste with kosher salt. Add peppers, saffron, add egg yolk and process into a thick paste.
Drizzle in the olive oil a little at a time and process until the rouille is smooth. Transfer to a serving container and refrigerate.
to make stock
Wash, peel if needed, and dice vegetables — the white part of leeks, celery root or stalks, carrots, fennel bulb. Cut green tops of leeks and fennel into 3-4" long pieces and tie them with thyme and parsley making a few bunches. Peel garlic cloves. Wash and chop tomatoes or use canned diced tomatoes with juice. Thinly peel the zest of an orange, squeeze and reserve its juice. Measure Pernod/Pastis.
Prep the seafood. Refrigerate fish fillets, crustation tails, and mollusks for later. Break seafood heads, carcasses, shells, etc. to smaller pieces and have them ready.
Soak saffron in white wine.
Heat 1/3" deep olive oil in a large pot. Add crustation heads and shells and cook until bright orange for 5 minutes. Add root vegetables and saute for another 5 minutes until sweet and aromatic. Add tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Flambe with Pernod/Pastis. Add fish heads and bones and fill the pot with wine and cold water to cover solids plus 2". Add spices, herbs and green tops bunches, and orange zest and juice. Bring to boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 45 minutes.
Remove spices, green bunches, and orange zest and strain the stock. You can blend it first to extract more flavor and to make it thicker. You can store the stock refrigerated or frozen until ready to make the fish stew.
to make and serve fish stew
Wash and peel potatoes. You have an option to cook and serve them in a separate dish or with the seafood. If serving separately, slice them into 1/4" rounds. Otherwise, dice them. In a pot, cover potatoes with seafood stock, bring to simmer and cook for about 15 minutes until done if serving separately or for 10 minutes if plating with seafood. *As an option, reserve some diced vegetables (leeks, fennel, carrots, and celery) for this step. They will add more texture to the stew.
If serving lobster tails, clams, or mussels, cook them until done and reserve.
Add bite-size fish pieces in order of how long they will take to cook. Monkfish and sea bass will take a few minutes longer than the rest of the fish, so start with them. When ready to serve, taste and adjust seasoning. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley and fennel fronds or other herbs of your choice.
Traditionally, French restaurants serve bouillabaisse not plated letting the guests assemble their dishes right before eating — large dishes with cooked seafood, fish stock, rouille, and baguette toasts. Each eater places some seafood and potatoes in a bowl, adds some stock, spreads some rouille on a couple of toasts and places them on top of the stock to soak flavorful essence of bouillabaisse. Other restaurants prefer serving it as a dinner that consists of 3-4 plated dishes featuring different kinds of seafood and making sure all components are distributed evenly. Either way, this fish stew is fantastic! Bon appetite!