Among the fish dishes, bouillabaisse is still considered the ultimate discipline. Without question, 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 origin is said to date back more than 2500 years to a soup made by Phocian sailors, which contained only fish and water. Predecessors of bouillabaisse may have originated in the Catalan district of Marseille as early as the 16th century, also because saffron was known there. Despite the spices, this kind of fish soup was a dish of the poor, which the fishermen tasted with bycatch and fish types that were difficult to sell because of their bonyness (the taste was excellent, by the way). But it was soon refined, and even the first official recipe of “Bouil-Abaisse à la Marseillaise,” published in 1830 in Charles Durand’s “Le cuisinier Durand,” listed such noble ingredients as hatch and lobster.
At the latest with the heyday of modern tourism, bouillabaisse became the trump card of restaurants on the French Mediterranean. Chefs surpassed each other in abundance and quasi-original recipes. And as the ingredients were increasingly lied to during obvious overfishing and price pressure, a group of French chefs felt compelled in 1980 to fix in a “charter” exactly what the bouillabaisse is all about. Various firm-fleshed rockfish, for example; red or brown scorpion, money, gurn, group or John Dorio – species that are becoming more and more expensive and which are often difficult to find today, even in Mediterranean fish markets.
The brewed soup is therefore less and less cooked at home in France. Seafood is best known by many today as sticks, impeccable salmon and tuna steaks, or, if you want it to be really chic, scalloped rounds or tiger shrimp. The great legacy of bouillabaisse is that something that is supposedly worthless, even what we usually and mistakenly consider rubbish – fish heads, carcasses, fins – can be made into something with great taste. There are many varieties and favorable simplifications of bouillabaisse, only compatible with soup, whose name was often found over recipes in Provencal cookbooks that did not contain fish at all. The name consists of boil (to cook) and lower yourself (lower), because you first boil the stew and then you lower the temperature (and yes: there are other explanations for the derivative).
For his “Gourmet Bible France” (Christian verlago), François Régis-Gaudry documented a particularly simple and inexpensive, though somewhat rustic variant of bouillabaisse. We’ve added a few tricks to the original recipe here.
For about 1 kilogram of fish 2 liters of liquid are used, water is recommended, but it is not harmful to replace part of it with white wine. Defrosting the vegetables with a shot of Noilly Prat also improves the aroma. The type of fish in this case does not matter, it can be different types, it is best to take especially cheap and clean them from the dealer, also heads and carcasses work, of course. If larger specimens are present, they can be filleted, whereby the fillets are initially set aside and their weight is not counted in the fish-to-water ratio. If you can get it, crabs in the soup are also good.
For the soup, sauté 1 large, chopped onion and finely chopped fennel bulb in 3 tablespoons olive oil in a roasting pan; Add three chopped garlic, three peeled and sliced tomatoes, some fennel seed, 3 sprigs of thyme, 3 bay leaves and a large piece of orange peel and the fish overall and fry stirring. If the fish gets muddy and falls off the bones: no problem! Pour in the liquid and cook for about 20 to 30 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, saffron and some pasta and bring to a boil. Then squeeze everything through a cloth (wear gloves for the bones!), Squeeze the solid parts well and twist the cloth firmly so that all the flavor enters the soup. If you have fish fillets, you can leave them in pieces in the soup. Vegetable julienne and toast with garlic or rye are also good additions.
A very simple recipe from the wonderful cookbook of freshwater fish “Abenteuer Fisch” (Alexander and Katja Quester, Joachim Gradwohl, Brandstätter-Verlag) also shows how to effectively taste dishes with fish (leftovers): Parsley soup with smoked fish flavor. To do this, boil 500 ml of buttermilk and pass through a sieve. Peel 200 g of parsnips and 2 shallots, cut them and sauté in a little olive oil, defrost with the buttermilk and 500 ml of vegetable stock and boil until the parsnips are soft. Add 125 ml sour cream, puree and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. At the end, let the remaining skin of smoked fish (or just half of it) soak in the soup for about five minutes and take it out again, but without cooking the skin, otherwise the soup will rancid. Add chopped parsley and slices of bread roasted 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 a side dish, but that would be the freestyle. Unfortunately, fish, which unfortunately cannot be stressed enough, has become a valuable ingredient that should be used as carefully as possible.