New Year’s Resolutions & Provencal Dining
Traditional Summer Dining on Bouillabaisse & Soupe de Poisson, in Winter!
Summer dining in Provence is spectacular for the purity of the ingredients and the full rich taste of super fresh fish and produce. Those of you who regularly read our blog know that we are big proponents of seasonal dining. We don’t often advocate eating a summer dish in winter or visa versa. The food is not fresh or local and the flavors just aren’t the same. However, bouillabaisse or soupe de poisson is an exception to this rule. It is a dish that can be modified (indeed, as you will see below, it needs to be modified to be eaten in the U.S.) So, each January as we contemplate the excesses of the holiday season and how to get back on track, one of our “go to” fixes is to eat soups and stews. A great way to “rebalance”. So, the timing for this sort of dish is perfect. Try the recipe below or modify it to fit your favorite fish.
History: One of the most famous, traditional seaside dishes is Bouillabaisse. It’s truly an “experience”, not just a meal. Even if you can’t come with us to Provence in the summer to have this spectacular dish, you can try our soupe de poisson recipe (modified for the U.S.) and put on a good French CD and “passez un bon moment.”
This dish is surrounded by myth. Either it was either created by the Greeks around 500 years BC or perhaps it was created by Venus (goddess of love) to put her husband to sleep so she could have an affair with another god (Mars, the god of war). Certainly, the dish is so copious and so rich that this is believable. And as long as Venus didn’t eat with her hubby, she was probably still energetic enough to sneak away!
However the recipe was born, bouillabaisse is a fish stew –made from what was once considered the dregs of the catch…the fish that was boney and hard to sell. However, as it’s popularity spread, it became a culinary treat of the highest order, with gourmands traveling all day to experience this seafood smorgasbord.
The soup is made from fish broth cooked with fennel, tomato & leek, and seasoned with saffron, bay leaf and pastis. Unlike other stews, there is a full ritual associated with the service of Bouillabaisse.
The broth is served separate from the fish. The fish (and they are specific) are brought to the table on a huge plank or platter, whole. They are filleted and then served in the bowl along with the other condiments: croutons, rouille or another form of sauce like a saffron aioli, and also shredded cheese. Sometimes whole garlic cloves are served. The diner takes these and wipes the toast with them, then spreads the sauce and plops the crouton into the soup.
Some places also serve the soup with potatoes. And some places serve the dish in courses.
One thing is certain. Bouillabaisse is serious business in Provence in the summer. It has become a sought after, highly gourmet treat. How many dishes do you know that have their own charter prescribing exactly which fish can be used? I know of only one! We have traveled all over the south to find the not just the “true”, but the “best” bouillabaisse. We have dined in Marseille, Saint Tropez, small villages dotting the coastline from east to west, and even on the coast islands of France. There are formal services, wood fired fish, copper kettle cooked stews, and rustic island treats. And the variations are very appetizing. We even tried a spectacular “play” on the dish in a small Provencal town this past October on our Fall foliage trip to Provence. One thing is certain. If you have good very fresh fish, a fine aioli or rouille and a hint of saffron, you have the makings of a great dish.
If you’d like to experience this with us this summer along the Mediterranean (or learn what others say about traveling with Bliss), contact us! We have 2 rooms left on our July Provence, Mediterranean and Bastille Day trip!
Our Recipe: Bliss Travels, French Culinary Travel…Follow Your Bliss
Soupe de Poisson
¼ cup Olive oil
7-9 small Garlic cloves, chopped
1 ½ cups of chopped sweet onion
2 ½ cups of chopped Leek, white and light green only
1 cup of chopped fennel
4 ½ – 5 cups Tomato (peeled, seeded and chopped)
¾ cups of white wine
12 cups water (or fish stock)
3-5 Tablespoons of Tomato paste, depending upon the flavor of the fresh tomatoes used above
2 Tablspoons of fresh Thyme, leaves only
¾ Teaspoon of fennel seed
2 Bay leaves
2 -2 inch strips of Orange peel
¼ to ¾ teaspoon of Saffron
Salt and Pepper
16 ounces filet of skinned flakey white fish, such as snapper, sole or halibut. Chef’s note: use sole if you wish to serve this incorporated into the broth as below. If you wish to poach the fish and place the fish filets into the broth table side, then a thick cut piece halibut is a great choice, as is scallop and some mussels.
Optional additional fish for poaching (a variety of bass, halibut, scallop, shrimp, mussels…are all good choices. ) DO NOT overcook. See below.
In a large soup pot, heat oil, then add garlic, stir for a moment, add onion, leek and fennel. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 5-10 minutes until vegetables soften. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer mixture for 45 minutes to an hour. Use an immersion blender to thoroughly blend, after removing bay leaves.
Add the white fish and bring soup to a slow boil, check seasoning, adding salt if necessary. Boil until fish is done, 5 minutes or so. Break up fish into fine flakes with a fork, or by pulsing the immersion blender very very briefly.
If using additional fish, poach the fish at the last minute and add whole. DO NOT OVERCOOK. Your fish should be not quite fully cooked when you remove it from the poaching liquid. The heat from the poaching as well as the broth will continue cooking it.
Using wide, shallow soup bowls, place poached fish on bottom of bowl, ladle hot soup over fish, and serve with croutons, aoli (garlic mayonnaise with saffron, white wine, lemon and salt), and shredded parmesan or comte cheese on the table.