30th July 2020

Bouillabaisse Back to Basics — a modern version of a recipe by Jean-Baptiste Reboul

By MaitreMarcel

Jean-Baptiste Reboul wrote “la cuisinière provençale” in 1897 and it is still a standard-bearer. I recently bought fish at Port la Nouvelle with the aim of making a Bouillabaisse.

This fish soup with chunks of fish has become a famous Marseille dish of broth, lots of fish and sea food, served with a garlicky and peppery rouille and even some grated cheese.

The origins are humble — the smaller rock fish, less suited for the market, was cooked in sea water by the fishermen.

Reboul’s basic Bouillabaisse takes vegetables, olive oil, water and several fish and crustaceans that are cooked for several lengths of time so there is a distinct order of when the sorts of fish are added. All in all it takes some 20 minutes.

But, then you have lots of chunks of fish with bones.

There is also the “richer” version in his little yellow book where you make a basic fish soup and then cook chunks of fish in that stock.

I opted for the last one. As we are just the two of us, I did not have a very large selection of fish.

So, first tomato, onion and cloves of garlic. Then some herbs such as parsley, thym and fennel. Some recipes call for fennel bulbs (and some add pastis to strengthen the anisette taste of that) but Reboul says “add some sprigs of parsley and as much of fennel”. So he meant the fennel green on the top of the bulb.

I chopped the vegetables and added a large glass of olive oil, then added the herbs with bay leave, pepper and coarse salt and safran. When it started to simmer, I added a good dose of boiling water to cover and let it cook for 20 minutes for it to break apart and become a sauce.

Then I added all the heads of fish and some whole smaller fish. My fish was ultra fresh so I kept their innards. I had kept a red mullet and a sea bream apart (beheaded and scaled).

After 20 minutes, I let it cool down, removed the fish, discarded the heads, pulled the meat from the bones and kept that apart.

Then I mixed the soup — in smaller portions — with a tumbler mixer and poured the remains through a sieve.

Later, I added filets of the left-over fish and cooked that some minutes in the broth.

The result was a velvety, garlicky fish soups with bites of meat and hardly any bones.

No extra garlic sauce or rouille, no cheese, no wine or pastis in the soup.

Just back to basics.