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Bouillabaisse is a classic French seafood stew that has been enjoyed for centuries. It is a dish that originated in the port city of Marseille and has since gained popularity around the world. With National Bouillabaisse Day on December 14, now is the perfect time to learn more about this delicious dish and how you can make it at home — even as a novice or intermediate chef.
The Origins of Bouillabaisse
The origins of bouillabaisse can be traced back to the fishermen of Marseille, France. When they returned from their fishing trips, they would bring back an assortment of fish that couldn’t be sold at the market.
To make use of these leftovers, the fishermen would create a flavorful stew by simmering the fish with a variety of herbs and spices. Over time, bouillabaisse became a beloved dish in Marseille and eventually spread throughout France.
The Key Ingredients
Bouillabaisse is known for its rich and complex flavors, which come from a combination of ingredients. The traditional recipe calls for a variety of fish, ideally a flaky white fish like cod or halibut. Shellfish like mussels, clams, and shrimp are also commonly used.
The stew is flavored with aromatic vegetables like onions, garlic, and fennel, as well as herbs like thyme, bay leaves, and saffron. The broth also typically has ripe or canned tomatoes added to it for the bold flavor and characteristic red color.
The Cooking Process
Making bouillabaisse may seem intimidating, but soups and stews are some of the easiest things to cook since you can almost always add more ingredients to fix any mistakes. The first step in making bouillabaisse involves sautéing the aromatic vegetables in olive oil until they become translucent and fragrant. Then, the fish and shellfish are added to the pot, along with the herbs and spices, as well as water or fish stock, to create a broth.
The stew is then simmered until the fish is cooked through and the flavors have melded together. It is important to note that bouillabaisse should be served immediately after cooking to ensure the seafood remains tender and flavorful. Here’s a perfect highly rated bouillabaisse recipe to get you started making it for the first time.
Traditionally, bouillabaisse is served in two courses. The broth is first served with slices of toasted baguette and a garlicky mayonnaise called rouille. The second course consists of the fish and shellfish, which are arranged on a platter and served alongside the broth. This is optional, however, and the fish and shellfish may sometimes be served in the broth.
The Versatility of Bouillabaisse
While the traditional recipe for bouillabaisse is well-loved, there are many variations and adaptations of the dish. Chefs around the world have put their own spin on this classic stew, incorporating local ingredients and flavors.
Some versions may include additional seafood like lobster or scallops, while others may add spices like paprika or cayenne pepper for a kick of heat. Vegetarian and vegan versions of bouillabaisse also exist, using ingredients like tofu or tempeh as a substitute for the fish.