Among the fish dishes, bouillabaisse is still considered the ultimate discipline. No doubt, it’s a great soup. But just as interesting is how well our – even dubious – relationship to fish can be read from her recipe history.
Its origins are said to go back more than 2,500 years to a soup made by Focian seafarers that contained only fish and water. Precursors to bouillabaisse may have originated in the Catalan district of Marseille since the 16th century, also because saffron was known there. Despite the spices, this type of fish soup was a poor man’s dish that the fishermen tasted with by-catch and fish species that were hard to sell because of their bones (the taste was fantastic, by the way). But it was quickly refined, and even the first official recipe for “Bouil-Abaisse à la Marseillaise”, published in 1830 in “Le cuisinier Durand” by Charles Durand, listed such noble ingredients as sea bass and lobster.
Most recently with the heyday of modern tourism, bouillabaisse became the trump card for restaurateurs on the French Mediterranean. Chefs outdid each other with opulence and alleged original recipes. And because people in the course of an obvious overfishing and price pressure increasingly lied about the raw materials, a group of French chefs in 1980 felt compelled in a “charter” to set out exactly what lies in bouillabaisse. Various carnivorous stone fish e.g. red or brown scorpionfish, monkfish, gurnard, grouper or John Dory – species that have become more and more expensive, and which today are often difficult to find, even in the fish markets of the Mediterranean.
The artful soup is therefore being cooked less and less at home in France. Seafood is best known by many today as sticks, impeccable salmon and tuna steaks, or, if you want it really smart, scallop rounds or tiger prawns. The great legacy of bouillabaisse is that something that is supposedly worthless, even what we commonly and erroneously regard as waste – fish heads, carcasses, fins – can be turned into something with a fantastic taste. There are many variations and cheap simplifications of bouillabaisse, only consistent with a soup whose name was often found over recipes in Provencal cookbooks that did not contain fish at all. The name consists of bouillir (cook) and s’abaisser (lower), as the pot is first brought to a boil and then the temperature is lowered (and yes: there are other explanations for the discharge).
For his “Gourmet Bible France” (Christian-Verlag), François Régis-Gaudry has documented an extremely simple and inexpensive, albeit somewhat rustic variant of bouillabaisse. We have added a few tricks to the original recipe here.
For about 1 kilo of fish, use 2 liters of liquid, water is recommended, but it does not hurt to replace part of it with white wine. Glazing the vegetables with a shot of Noilly Prat also enhances the aroma. The type of fish does not matter in this case, it can be different types, it is best to take particularly cheap and have them cleaned at the dealer, heads and carcasses of course also work. If larger specimens are present, they can be filleted, initially setting the fillets aside and not counting their weight in the fish-to-water ratio. If you can get it, crabs in the soup are also good.
For the soup, sauté 1 large diced onion and a finely chopped fennel onion in 3 tablespoons olive oil in a frying pan; Add three chopped cloves of garlic, three peeled and chopped tomatoes, a little fennel seeds, 3 sprigs of thyme, 3 bay leaves and a large piece of orange peel and the fish as a whole and fry while stirring. If the fish gets muddy and falls off the bones: no problem! Pour in the liquid and simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, saffron and a splash of pastis and let it simmer. Then twist it all through a cloth (wear gloves because of the bones!), Squeeze the solid parts well out and turn the cloth well so that all the flavor gets into the soup. If you have fish fillets, you can leave them in pieces in the soup. Vegetable julienne and toast with aioli or rouille are also nice additions.
A very simple recipe from the wonderful freshwater fish cookbook “Abenteuer Fisch” (Alexander and Katja Quester, Joachim Gradwohl, Brandstätter-Verlag) also shows how effective dishes with fish (leftovers) can be tasted for: Parsnip soup with smoked fish aroma. To do this, bring 500 ml of buttermilk to a boil and pass through a sieve. Peel 200 g parsnips and 2 shallots, cut them into cubes and saute them in a little olive oil, glaze with buttermilk and 500 ml vegetable stock and simmer until the parsnips are soft. Add 125 ml sour cream, puree and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Finally, let the remaining skin of a smoked fish (or only half of it) soak in the soup for about five minutes and take it out again, but without boiling the skin, otherwise the soup will become rancid. Add chopped parsley and slices of bread toasted in a pan with a little oil.
Of course, pieces of smoked fish that you add to the soup just before serving also serve as an accompaniment, but that would be freestyle. Unfortunately, fish, which unfortunately can not be stressed enough, has become a precious ingredient that should be used as carefully as possible.