Mastering classic French cooking at home: bouillabaisse
Have you always dreamed of mastering French cuisine? Years ago I attended a course with Le Cordon Bleu in London and I have a very early (1978) copy of Julia Child’s ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ now very yellow and food stained by successful and not so masterful attempts!
Like many of you, I’ve also read the book and seen the 2009 film, Julie & Julia, with Amy Adams as Julie Powell and Meryl Streep as Julia Child. Upon hearing about Powell’s attempt at replicating all her recipes, Child was reported to have been unimpressed, viewing Powell’s attempt to be a stunt, and that Powell wasn’t serious about doing it.
We’re passionate about continuing the challenge of mastering classic French cooking at home without having professional training. In this series we bring you tips and recipes from others who share our passion.
A taste of the Mediterranean Sea
There are some travel memories that stick with you forever. If we travellers are lucky, we have breathtaking experiences to thank for these memories.
Occasionally, we vividly recall luggage that has gone ‘missing in action’ or some other travel mishap. But more often than not, it is food that creates everlasting travel memories.
Today we’re speaking with Janelle Gould of Distant Francophile blog who says that she can cite any number of excellent French food memories. “From three Michelin-starred extravaganzas through to a magic, yet rustic, lamb and beans in Saint-Agrève.” She goes on to speak of her travels in France with her husband Scott, the talented photographer behind their blog, “We’ve been lucky enough to taste the very best France can offer. And the meal I ate while we were in the historical port city of Marseille definitely fits into the ‘best on offer’ category”.
Janelle continues to reminisce about a particular trip, “It was a beautiful, sunshiny day and we decided to make our way to Marseille for the very first time. Given the spectacular weather, we were always going to eat outdoors. Our restaurant of choice was nestled under the colonnades that grace the impressive port. Now that I think about it, there is very a strong chance we chose to eat in a ‘tourist trap’ but I can honestly tell you that we didn’t care at the time. The sun was warm, the rosé was chilled and I was always going to order the bouillabaisse.
To say I enjoyed Marseille’s famous dish in that port-side restaurant is an understatement. Enriched with tomatoes and tasting of the sea, it is almost a decade since I savoured that meal – I promise you that I remember that meal as if it were just a few hours ago.”
Here at MyFrenchLife™ – MaVieFrançaise® we’re pleased to let you know that you don’t have to go all the way to Marseille to appreciate a decent bouillabaisse. It is easy to recreate a version of the famous French fish stew at home and below Janelle shows us how! Now over to Janelle.
As a keen home cook, I’m always on the lookout for recipes that allow me to easily replicate the flavours of French classics without too much fuss.
My current favourite ‘at home’ bouillabaisse is based on a recipe that can be found in ‘Monet’s Palate Cookbook: The Artist & His Kitchen Garden at Giverny’ by Aileen Bordman and Derek Fell. This gorgeous book is also prefaced by Meryl Streep. It explores and shares the beautiful meals that were created from the goodies found in Monet’s kitchen garden – including bouillabaisse. You can read our book review here.
Now I don’t know about you, but I had no idea that Claude Monet – who created the spectacular Les Nymphéas – had such a love of fish stew. Through ‘Monet’s Palate,’ I learned that he even had fellow artists send him their favourite recipes!
This dish is not only tasty but very forgiving in that it allows you to substitute fish and shellfish that are available at the market on the day you are cooking. If you agree with my thoughts that life is too short to be pulverising crustacean shells, you’ll also appreciate the fact that it uses prepared stock. The quantities below will serve four very happy diners, but are easily scaled to serve more or less.
- Olive oil
- 1 leek, chopped (use white and light green parts only)
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 400g tomato purée
- Chopped parsley
- 1 bay leaf
- 500ml prepared fish stock
- 1/2 cup of white wine
- Pinch of saffron threads
- 1 – 2 large, firm white skinless fish fillet, cubed (I used barramundi but snapper would be lovely)
- 16 raw prawns or shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 500g of cleaned mussels
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Crusty bread to serve
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add leek and onion and cook over low heat until soft.
- Add tomato purée, wine, saffron and herbs and stir to combine.
- Stir in about 3/4 of the fish stock and reserve the remainder. Cook the base for about 20 minutes. You are looking to get a thick, rich base – add a splash more stock if your tomatoes have reduced too far.
- Lightly season with salt and pepper.
- Add the fish and prawns and cook for two minutes.
- Check the consistency before adding the mussels – you might like to add a little more stock if you prefer your bouillabaisse slightly more ‘soupy’.
- Cook for up to a further 5 minutes, discarding any mussels that do not open.
- Watch carefully, as you don’t want to overcook the fish.
- Serve immediately in deep bowls with crusty bread.
Are you a fan of Marseille and its famous bouillabaisse? Or perhaps you adore everything associated with Monet? Either way, we’d love for you to share your experiences in the comments section below.
Indulge yourself with more delicious recipes in our series of how to Master French Classics…
1. Collage of images taken by Scott Gould
2. Janelle and Scott by Carla Coulson
3. Bouillabaisse by Scott Gould