One of the concepts I try to convey in my blog is that cooking is an art, and that the culinary arts are approachable. The more advanced artistry of preparing truly wonderful food can be achieved by the home cook with some planning, a sharp knife, and a little time. And one of my favorite culinary classics is bouillabaisse. I have presented this in the past in a quick form that can be done in the evening after work using items many of us have readily on hand. This is an approach that has worked for us well in the past. This weekend, however, we decided to take a more classic approach and attempted to create it as presented in the LaRousse Gastronomique.
That's a lot of bouillabaisse
This time, we did not hold back. If you want to try this variation at home, you will need to pick up some items that are probably not on your weekly shopping list.
For our stock we used:
Fresh mandarin oranges, including the leaves and rind
For our fish we used:
Large sea scallops (added at the end)
Fresh Tilapia fillets
Flounder and mackerel
We also used some olive oil, butter, and the liquid from a can of stewed tomatoes imported from Italy.
We started with a bouquet garni, which is really just what it sounds like: a garnishing bouquet. We bundled our more pungent flavorings into the bouquet garni, and we did this for a good reason. These are strong flavors that we wanted to infuse into our bouillabaisse but because they are fairly potent and overpowering, we wanted to be able to easily find and remove them before they developed an undue influence on the dish.
Our bouquet garni consisted of:
We bundled these up with some kitchen twine, making two little bundles. This will allow you to remove one when the flavor starts to get strong while leaving some in the pot to continue cooking.
Zesting the lemon
Once that was completed, we started the stock. You will want to use your largest pot for this dish. On the stovetop, heat up a generous amount of olive oil. Add a good pinch of saffron threads and saute gently. Add to that a mixture of:
Cardamom (be generous with this)
Stir this mixture into the oil. Then add five or six whole peeled garlic cloves (cloves, not bulbs) and continue cooking until the garlic is soft and slightly browned.
Saffron, garlic, and our aromatic spice mixture
Now add your veg. you should have prepared:
Two white onions
A stalk of leek
A bulb of fennel, including stalks and leaves
Add these items, reserving about half of the onion to add later. Continue to cook until very fragrant.
Remove your pot from the heat and arrange your fish in the pot, making an effort to keep the fillets intact. You can also use whole fish if you want to go really old school. We used cleaned, boned fillets and placed them in the pot at a vertical, almost as if lining them around the edge of the pot.
Almost ready for the oven
Gently place in the center of your pot, the rest of the onion, a large carrot cut into large battonettes, and a couple of celery stalks. Also add the sections of the orange and the lemon you peeled previously, and your bouquets garni.
Add the juice from a can of stewed tomatoes, a generous pour of olive oil, and a generous chunk of butter. We also added a pit of a champagne reduction we had on hand, plus a healthy shot of the actual wine.
Place your pot in an oven and cook at about 300 for several hours. You'll want to check in on it form time to time to give it a taste and make adjustments to your liking. After several hours, my counterpart removed one of the bouquets garni and about half of the fennel and citrus.
After about four or five hours, remove the pot from the oven and let cool slightly. Separate the contents into three containers: veg, fish, and stock. Discard the citrus fruit and any other flavors you feel are becoming too pronounced. Cover and let rest in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, you have an opportunity to work with your stock and make any adjustments. My counterpart thickened his stock and mellowed it with some heavy cream and fresh parsley.
One thing we noticed about this more classic bouilliabaisse as compared to our previous quick renditions was that this had a more pronounced earthy flavor. While it retained that bright, citrusy flavor of previous attempts, there was also something unmistakably sweet about this version. I could readily identify the saffron, fennel, and orange, while the bitters like oregano, garlic, and cardamom came through as a little afterglow in the back of my mouth.
You will also want to reheat your vegetable matter and your fish, keeping them separate.
Now it's time to cook the scallops. The key to perfect scallops is a well-scoured pan. When scallops stick, they are adhering to crap residue in the pan from the last time it was used. So, to get those perfectly cooked, golden-crusted scallops, start with an immaculate pan.
To serve, reassemble on a plate or in a large shallow bowl. Serve with a nice, crusty bread and unsalted butter.