Monday, August 24, 2009

Fancy French-Speak for “Fish Stew”

Ever since my stepfather, Ernie, showed me how to make Bouillabaisse a few years ago, I have been dying for an excuse to make it again. My mom and Ernie would often make a big batch of Bouillabaisse for guests, and for me it holds blissful memories of sitting around my mom’s table with friends, being cared for and filled with something warm, fragrant, and intensely flavorful. One of the things I love most about food is that it does for me what music does for some – it envelopes me with deep emotions and memories of how it feels to finally come home after a long time away, tuck yourself under the covers after a bad day; the excitement of falling in love for the first time, or a comforting hug from a dear friend. The process of cooking is exciting, but eating is the reward. And if you have someone to share it with, that makes it all the more rewarding.

I had some fish-loving friends over for dinner last night. There are about a million ways to make Bouillabaisse, a traditional Provençal fish stew originating from the port city of Marseille that contains different kinds of cooked fish/shellfish and vegetables, and is flavored with a variety of spices. This version received rave reviews.

Recipe for Ernie’s Bouillabaisse:

For Bouillabaisse for 4 people, you’ll need:

  • 8 Scallops
  • About 1lb Mussels
  • 8 Shrimp, peeled, cleaned
  • About ½-1 lb of non-oily white fish, such as Halibut, Turbot, Snapper… whatever is fresh… chopped into bite-sized chunks
  • 2 cups of Fish Stock
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, pressed through a garlic press (or minced very fine)
  • 1 can of whole tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp of tomato paste
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • A pinch (about ¼ tsp) of saffron
  • About ¼- ½ tsp of cayenne pepper (adjust according to your heat preference)
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt & white pepper
  • About 2 tbsp of Pernod (licorice-flavored liqueur)

In a large heavy pot with a lid, heat the olive oil and butter on medium until the butter has melted. Add the chopped celery, leeks, and fennel, and stir in the saffron; add the star anise and bay leaf, and season with salt and pepper. Cook about 5-10 minutes until the veggies are tender. Turn the heat down to medium-low and stir in the garlic and some sprinkles of cayenne. Next, add the tomato paste and stir. Cook for about one more minute, then add the white wine and bring to a simmer. Add the tomatoes and their juices, mashing them into pieces with your stirring device. Add the fish stock and the Pernod. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Discard the star anise and bay leaf, and check your seasoning. You might add a little more cayenne, salt or pepper at this point. With the pot is still simmering and steaming, add the mussels and cover. Let the mussels steam for a couple of minutes, until they open up. Discard any that do not open.

Add the scallops and white fish, and let them cook in the simmering liquid for another minute or two, then add the shrimp, and cook until it has just turned pink. Give one last stir, and check seasoning one last time.

Serve it to friends with lots of warm crusty bread, and a simple green salad on the side.

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