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Bouillabaisse a la Marseillaise

Julia Child's recipe

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From The French Chef Cookbook (Knopf, 1968), by Julia Child:

How to make the authentic bouillabaisse is always a subject of lively discussion among French experts; each always insists that his own is the only correct version. If you do not happen to live on the Mediterranean, you cannot obtain the particular rockfish, gurnards, mullets, weavers, sea eels, wrasses, and breams which they consider the absolutely essential fish for bouillabaisse, but you can make an extremely good facsimile even if you have only frozen fish and canned clam juice to work with, because all the other essential flavors of tomatoes, onion or leeks, garlic, herbs, and olive oil are always available.

Bouillabaisse is really a fish chowder; whole small fish or large fish cut into serving pieces are boiled in a deliciously aromatic fish broth. The fish are served on a platter, and the broth in a tureen, and you eat both together in large soup plates.

For the best and most interesting flavor, pick six or more varieties of fish, which is why a bouillabaisse is ideally made for at least six people. Some of the fish should be firm fleshed and gelatinous, like halibut, eel, and cusk; some should be tender and flaky like hake, whiting, and sole. The firm fish hold their shape, and the tender fish partially disperse in the soup. Shellfish are optional, but always add glamour and color if you wish to include them.

Except for live lobsters and crabs, all the fish may be cleaned, sliced, and refrigerated several hours before the final cooking. The soup base may be boiled, strained, and refrigerated. The actual cooking of the fish in the soup will take only about 20 minutes, and then the dish should be served immediately.

The Fish

Fish for bouillabaisse should be lean, and of the best and freshest-smelling quality. Here are some suggestions: bass, cod, conger or sea eel, cusk, flounder, grouper, grunt, haddock, hake or whiting, halibut, perch, pollock, rockfish or sculpin, snapper, spot, sea trout or weakfish, wolffish. Shellfish—crab, lobster, mussels, clams, scallops.

Have the fish cleaned and scaled; discard gills. Save heads, bones, and trimmings for the soup base. Cut large fish into crosswise slices of 2 inches wide. Scrub clams; scrub and soak mussels; wash scallops. If using live crab or lobster, split just before cooking; remove sand sack and intestinal tube from lobsters, and tail flap from under crabs.

Bouillabaisse a la Marseillaise
(Mediterranean Fish Chowder)
For 6 to 8 people

The Soup Base

  • 1 cup sliced yellow onions
  • ¾ to 1 cup sliced leeks, white part only; or ½ cup more onions
  • ½ cup of olive oil
  • A heavy 8-quart kettle or casserole
  • 2 to 3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes, or 1¼ cups drained canned tomatoes, or ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 4 cloves mashed garlic
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