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Bouillabaisse (Mediterranean Fish Soup)

Like all traditional dishes, bouillabaisse, a fish soup commonly found in restaurants and homes along the Mediterranean coast of France, can take many forms. Its origins are in the fishermen's stews that were typically cooked up on the beaches, after the day's catch was in and sold.

Ingredients:

For the rouille:

  • 2 dried cayenne or other dried red chilies,
      seeded
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbs. dried bread crumbs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the soup:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 leeks, white portion only, chopped and rinsed
      well
  • 2 tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 fresh bay leaf or 1/2 dried leaf
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1 fennel stalk, 6 inches long
  • 1 fresh or dried orange zest strip, 2 inches long
      and 1 inch wide
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1 cup water
  • 5 potatoes, about 1 1/2 lb. total, peeled
      and cut into slices 1/2 inch thick
  • 1/4 tsp. saffron threads
  • 2 lb. firm-fleshed fish steaks or fillets, such as
      monkfish, halibut or cod, cut into 1, 1/2-inch
      chunks
  • Boiling water, as needed
  • 2 lb. tender-fleshed whole fish, such as
      red snapper, ocean perch or rockfish, cleaned
      and left whole if small or cut into 1 1/2-inch
      chunks or filleted if large
  • 1 lb. mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 1 lb. small crabs
  • 1 Tbs. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 8 slices coarse country bread, each 1 inch thick,
      toasted and rubbed with garlic

Directions:

To make the rouille, in a mortar, combine the chilies and garlic and crush them together with a pestle to make a paste. Add the bread crumbs and mash again. Mix in the egg yolks and salt to make a smooth paste. Very slowly, drop by drop, whisk in the olive oil until the mixture thickens. Continue adding the oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly, until a mayonnaiselike mixture forms. (Alternatively, make the rouille in a blender.) Set aside.

To make the soup, in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and leeks and sauté until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, fennel, orange zest, salt and pepper. Stir well and add the wine, water and potatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the potatoes are nearly tender, about 25 minutes.

Bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Stir in the saffron. Lay the firm-fleshed fish on top of the soup, pour over just enough boiling water to cover, and boil for about 7 minutes to half-cook the fish. Add the tender-fleshed fish, the mussels (discard any that do not close to the touch) and the crabs, adding more boiling water as needed to cover, and boil just until the tender-fleshed fish separates easily with a fork and the mussels open, 3 to 4 minutes.

Using a spatula, transfer the fish and shellfish to a warmed platter, placing the tender-fleshed fish on one part, the firm-fleshed on another. Discard any mussels that failed to open. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to the same plate. Ladle a few Tbs. of broth over them and garnish with the parsley. Stir 2 to 3 Tbs. of broth into the rouille. Ladle the remaining broth into a serving bowl.

Place a slice of bread in the bottom of each soup bowl and ladle on some broth. Pass the fish, potatoes and rouille for spooning into the bowls.
Serves 8.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Series, Savoring France, by Georgeanne Brennan (Time-Life Books, 1999).