Sunday, November 26, 2006

Beautiful Boullabaisse

Cooking in someone else's kitchen (albeit my mother's) is always an adventure. Today I found myself missing my wonderful walnut cutting board, the knife that fits my hand just right, and the pepper grinder that's set to the perfect grind. Shopping for my favorite brands in a new market was even more of an adventure... yet, it was fun, and ultimately I can satisfy my tastebuds just as well in foreign territory. This is Greg's absolute favorite recipe. He jokes that this Boullabaisse Soup is the reason he's marrying me, or, at least, the reason he'll stay married to me when everything else goes bad. As long as I make this soup, we'll be golden.

This recipe takes quite a while to prepare, but it is well worth the effort. It is fishy, comforting, hearty, and bursting with earthy flavor. Sometimes I think an entire bottle of wine is overkill, but then I spoon up this soup and know it's worth it. Sometimes I ommit the carrots and add mushrooms. Sometimes rosemary instead of thyme. As the saying goes, it's all good. For a sweeter soup, use more carrot and celery. For a drier, sharper soup, reduce the vegetables and add more lemon. If you need something lighter, use less garlic, omit the wine and add vegetable stock to compensate.

The onions/garlic must be minced very, very finely (lots of surface area to caramelize and lovely morsles in each spoonfull). The more patient you can be in caramelizing the onions and reducing the wine/stock base, the more intense of a flavor you will get. Simmering the tomatoes for a longer period of time will also sweeten their flavor tremendously. I have found I like a bitter, unsalted vegetable stock (as opposed to sweeter versions) to balance out the carrots and tomato in this dish.

Whatever seafood you feel like - throw on in. The list I had here is a bit overkill. This produces a thick, hearty stew more than a soup! The scallops are very easy to overcook; best to finish cooking them in the soup base while you prepare the shellfish (usually I slice them in half or quarters after searing them).

I think it helps to wait to season the soup base until after the vegetables are done. Adding salt before this will draw out moisture from the vegetables (toughening them and preventing caramelization). I like lots of fresh parsley, lemon, and cayanne pepper in my soup, but others might prefer it plain. If the fishy taste is too much, first take out the clams and crabmeat - without those, the fish flavor is very, very mild.

Sometimes I make extra garlic/shallot/butter (eventually used for the scallops) and reserve it to dunk chunks of bread in. Hope you enjoy. Oh, and both your house and your clothing will smell like fish - beware!! :)

SOUP BASE (easy to make ahead of time)

4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp olive oil
1 sweet onion, minced
1 head of garlic minus 3 cloves, minced
3-4 ribs of celery, minced or chopped
2-3 med carrots, minced or chopped
3 cups vegetable stock
3 cups dry white wine
35 oz. can of whole tomatoes, juice drained, tomatoes pulled into strips
2 small bay leaves
2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp thyme
salt, pepper, and cayanne pepper

1. Mince onions and garlic together
2. Melt butter with olive oil in pan and add onions and garlic. Caramelize for 20-30 minutes
3. Meanwhile, mince the cellery and carrots. Add to soup base and cook for an additional 20 minutes
4. Deglaze with white wine and reduce by 25%
5. Add vegetable stock, tomato strips, bay leaves and other spices
6. Simmer gently for at least 30 minutes with seasoning to taste


1 can clams with juice
1 can crab meat
1 lb flakey white fish (Cod works well)
12 medium scallops or several large ones
12 shellfish (muscles or clams)
1 cup white wine
3 cloves of garlic
1 Shallot

1. Mince shallot and garlic; add to a separate fish pan with olive oil and cook on low heat for 10 minutes
2. Meanwhile, prepare the fish:
- soak the scallops in milk to clean
- scrub shellfish and clean well; place in fresh brine with corn meal to flush out
- slice the white fish into bites and add to simmering soup base (simmer soup base until done!)
3. Turn fish pan to high heat; sear scallops until crispy on the outside and nearly done on the inside; add to soup stock
4. Deglaze with 1 cup wine and immediately steam shellfish. Cook for 6 minutes at most (remove any unopened ones) and add shellfish with cooking liquid to soup

Add chopped parsley. Serve with wedges of lemon and crusty bread.

(Unfortunately my family is not big into shellfish, so there aren't any in the photos I took today!)

1 comment:

Vanessa said...

Rachael, we all love bouillabaisse and your recipe looks good and unpretentious...I like that. Now I'm going to have to add this to my list of recipes to cook before winter is over.