Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bouillabaise. What do you think of? A rich fish soup? Something involving bouillon cubes? Lots of small portions of very expensive fish and shellfish? ("I'd like a pound of the local haddock, and one of the wild salmon. And two pounds of the mussels. Those are cherrystone clams? OK, two pounds of that, too. That comes to WHAT?") A broth that is more like a stew, featuring garlic, home-grown tomatoes, red wine, shrimp stock, saffron, olive oil, and more?

Well, I created this Sunday dinner treat for two friends we'd invited over for the first time. Patience and Phillip: world travelers, fellow Democrats, word mavens, very fun conversationalists. Managed to pull off the dinner, which included garlic-sauteed green beans, local salad, crusty bread. Got compliments. Finished with Patience's apple crisp (ooh, she peels her apples...) and ice cream.

But what was I thinking when I was savoring the very rich, thick, flavorful soup base? Hmm, you could hide some poison among the poisson. Nobody would ever know. Oh, these mystery writers! Better look for that soup in one of my next books or stories.
In the meantime, here's an approximation of my recipe, adapted from both Julia Child and the New Basics cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.

Max's Bouillabaise
(serves 8)

1. Scrub and rinse 2 lbs each mussels and clams. Skin and cut 2-3 lbs fresh fish (different kinds) into 2-inch chunks. Keep all seafood cool.

2. In olive oil, saute 5 chopped leeks, 2 peeled and chopped carrots, and 2 chopped
celery stalks until wilted.
3. Add 5 cloves
minced garlic and saute for 1 minutes
4. Add 3 c chopped tomatoes, chopped canned whole tomatoes, or frozen local tomatoes, along with 1 qt fish stock, 1 c red wine, 1 bay leaf, 1 tsp dry thyme leaves, ground black pepper, a pinch of saffron.

5. Simmer 20 minutes. Let it cool a little, and then food process until roughly blended (not pureed).

6. Reheat the broth, add the shellfish, and cook covered 10-12 minutes until the shells open. Transfer the shellfish to a warm platter and keep warm.
7. Add 2-3 lbs fresh fish and a pound of scallops.
8. Cook just a few minutes until the fish and scallops are opaque, and transfer fish to the platter.

9. Serve a portion of seafood into each large individual bowl, and then top with the soup, fresh chopped parsley, a piece of toasted French bread spread with al pesto sauce, and a dollop of red pepper rouille.

And did you know the name comes from the Occitan language? Wikipedia tells us, "Occitan is a Romance language spoken in Southern France, the Occitan Valleys of Italy, Monaco, and in Val d'Aran in Catalonia, Spain, the regions sometimes known informally as Occitania. It is also spoken in the linguistic enclave of Guardia Piemontese (Calabria, Italy). It is an official language in Catalonia (known as Aranese in Val d'Aran).Modern Occitan is the closest relative of Catalan." I bet Lauren Rousseau knows that.

What's your favorite dish to hide poison in, fictionally speaking, of course?


  1. Oh, Edith, you are wicked with your poisonous thoughts. I remember that poison plays a role in "Reduction in Force," your wonderful story in the new Level Best Books anthology, THIN ICE. But thanks for the recipe. I adore Bouillabaise, though haven't had it in ages. Maybe this recipe will encourage me to try it!


  2. My favorite bouillabaisse recipe is Julia Child's from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", volume 1. The rouille is key. I serve it with a simple green salad and crusty baguette.

    One of the most memorable meals of my life was the bouillabaisse served at Restaurant Michel on the waterfront in Marseille. After ordering, the waiters return with an enormous platter of uncooked fish to show you exactly what they are going to use to make your portion.

    Jim Lerner

  3. Thanks, Leslie. Hey, Jim, amazed you found this! Nice to hear from you. Yes, the rouille was a big sucess - I ran out of energy and room to include the recipe for that. And exactly - I served the meal with locally grown green salad and a great baguette.