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My favourite fish soup is French Bouillabaisse, similar to fish chowder, served with plenty of fish and seafood morsels, potatoes and perfectly paired with bread and rouille, a garlicky roast pepper mayonnaise style sauce.
Bouillabaisse (pronounced “BOO-ya-bess”) started off as a simple Mediterranean Marseille fisherman’s soup, using the leftover from the catch of the day, seasoned with olive oil, leeks, garlic, tomatoes and herbs.
Despite its humble beginnings, Bouillabaisse made its way from Marseille to nearly every bistro in France as a national dish. Rouille, a strong garlic pepper sauce, was introduced to further flavour the soup to one’s liking or to simply act as a spread for the accompanying baguette slices. Families in France will often make Bouillabaisse as a family feast with a large pot at the centre of the table for those to help themselves and flavour it to their liking.
It is best to make the rouille sauce ahead of time (the day before is fine) and if you plan to bake your own gluten-free baguette, get this in the oven a couple of hours before serving the Bouillabaisse.
As the cooking time is short for the fish stock, preparing the fish, seafood and potatoes for the Bouillabaisse can be done during this time.
If it is exceptionally cold, warm the empty ovenproof soup bowls or tureens in a low oven for 5 mins before serving.
Rouille (pronounced roo-EE) is a strong garlic-peppery mayonnaise-style sauce which complements the Bouillabaisse.
The peppers are chargrilled to remove their skins and add some smokiness to the sauce. Lots of fresh garlic is added, but feel free to lower the amount if this is your first time making rouille. More can always be added later.
The bread is broken up into small pieces and soaked in cold water, to be later squeezed and processed coarsely into breadcrumbs. Once added to the rouille, it acts as a thickener and flavours the sauce. Julia Child used mashed potatoes in her rouille recipe, so if you like the sounds of this alternative ingredient more, prepare the same weight of mash as needed for the breadcrumbs.
For this recipe, no eggs are used as normally present in mayonnaise, but as mentioned before, the breadcrumbs or mashed potatoes play an important role to bind the sauce together.
If you intend to order Bouillabaisse with rouille in a restaurant, it’s best to check if it is gluten-free or not, otherwise, I would request for a side of aioli mayonnaise to substitute rouille.
What is Piment d’Espelette?
Piment d’Espelette is chilli grown in the Basque region of southwest France, then dried and ground, resulting in a deep red spice blend similar to paprika.
Besides the strong flavour coming from the chargrilled, roasted peppers and raw garlic, it is important to raise the heat a bit in rouille for a mild kick. If you are able to buy the traditional French spice, Piment d’Espelette, then use this to season the rouille. Otherwise, Aleppo pepper or Spanish sweet paprika mixed with a tiny amount of cayenne pepper are good substitutes.
HOMEMADE FISH STOCK
Nothing beats homemade fish stock that transforms into a brilliant soup!
Unless you are lucky to get fresh fish stock made by your local fishmonger, buying store-bought fish stock is not a good option, albeit super expensive.
With some basic ingredients, you can make a fabulous and aromatic fish stock which will turn your favourite fish or seafood soup into magic. Unlike beef and chicken stock, fish stock is a fairly quick affair, made in under an hour.
Some tips for a good fish stock:
Use different types of fish (heads, bones and trimmings). Rinse the heads and bones well to remove slime, and snip out the gills, as these combined with the blood in them, will ruin the stock, turning your stock cloudy and slightly bitter.
Shellfish carcasses boost loads of flavour into fish stock. Collect carcasses gradually and store them in the freezer over time while preparing other meals that do not require shells, claws, tails, etc.
Chop all the vegetables and herbs into rough pieces.
Do not boil the fish stock at any stage. It should stay at a constant low simmer.
Remove any scum that rises to the surface.
Once all the fish stock ingredients are added, simmer the stock for no more than 45 minutes.
Strain the stock into another pot. After removing the large pieces like the fish head and chunky pieces of vegetables, press the sieved contents with a wooden spoon to extract as much goodness and flavour into the stock.
Either use the strained fish stock straight away or chill covered for a maximum of two days to make the Bouillabaisse.
Fish stock is suitable to freeze for a maximum of two months.
The traditional recipe called for fish only (at least five different fish), but nowadays, just about any fish or shellfish can go in Bouillabaisse, but it is recommended to use lean & firm fish fillets and not use oily fish like tuna or mackerel. The skin, carcass and fine bones should also be removed to make eating the fish easier.
Which type of fish is best for Bouillabaisse?
Mediterranean fish such as rockfish, John Dory, gurnard, whiting, mullet or bream are used traditionally in Bouillabaisse. Good substitutes include turbot, red snapper, striped bass, grouper and cod.
Fresh vs Frozen
Fresh fish and seafood are best, but for those who live in landlocked countries like myself, frozen works fine. I managed to source a fresh whole bream, several frozen fillets of sea trout and a mixed bag of frozen seafood for my Bouillabaisse. The whole bream was filleted into small morsel pieces, while the head, tail and trimmings were used in my fish stock. As for the seafood carcasses, I slowly stored them in the freezer over time while preparing other meals that did not require the shells, claws and tails etc from prawns, mussels or crabs. Once I had a decent amount, I used this in my fish stock to fortify the flavours of the sea.
Why is Pernod added?
Pernod is a French liqueur made from star anise, fennel and botanical herbs. This liqueur is used to flavour and lift many French dishes including Bouillabaisse. It also makes a refreshing and titillating cocktail with plenty of ice! Pernod is gluten-free and safe for celiacs to use.
To learn more about Pernod, click on this link
Typically, crusty slices of baguette bread are served with Bouillabaisse, but there is no stopping you from serving it with other types of bread as long as it is sliced, therefore I wouldn’t recommend serving it with bread rolls.
How to serve Bouillabaisse:
In France, it is common to serve the soup broth separate from the fish, seafood, potatoes etc which is usually laid out on another plate, or to enjoy it as two courses, starting with the broth followed by the fish etc. The rouille is served in a small bowl for spreading on the baguette or any bread slices, but can also be used for dipping the fish, seafood and potatoes into.
BOUILLABAISSE SOUP with Rouille Sauce
- ½ red pepper/capsicum, cut in large slices
- 80 g gluten-free soft white bread rolls or slices, broken up into small pieces
- 1 medium cayenne chilli, sliced roughly
- 1 tsp Piment d’Espelette, Aleppo pepper or Spanish smoked sweet paprika mixed with a tiny amount of cayenne pepper
- 2 strands saffron (optional), crumbled with a teaspoon of cold water
- 1-2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 drops Tabasco or hot sauce
- 4-5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- sea salt & white pepper, to season
Homemade Fish Stock
- 1-2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ leek, white part only
- 1 white onion
- ½ red pepper/capsicum
- 1 fennel bulb (top part only) with some fronds on them
- 250 g fresh tomatoes
- 4 sprigs fresh parsley
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 500 g mixture of fish bones, heads, tails, prawn shells, mussel shells and/or crab shells & claws
- 2 slivers fresh orange peel
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 star anise, whole
- ½ tbsp black peppercorns
- 1.5 litres water
- sea salt & white pepper, to season (only add at the end of cooking the stock)
- 1-1.5 litres homemade fish stock
- 2 tbsp Pernod or Ricard liqueur
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 medium potato, 3cm chunks
- 500 g mixture of firm fish fillets, sliced roughly into bite-size morsels
- 250 g mixed seafood (shelled prawns, shelled mussels, calamari and/or scallops)
- sea salt & white pepper, to season
- 2 tbsp fresh chives snipped finely, to garnish
- 1 lemon, quartered to serve with soup
- 1 storebought or homemade gluten-free baguette sliced and served with soup
- Grill the red pepper slices, skin side down on a griddle pan over high heat. You will need to ventilate or use your extractor fan on full blast due to the charring of the skin.
- Once the skin is slightly blackened, turn them over and grill the other side for a few mins.
- Transfer the peppers to a plate and cover them immediately with some plastic wrap. Allow them to cool down.
- Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove the plastic and start peeling the skin off. This should be easy to do as the steam lifts the skin away from the flesh. Set aside.
- Add the bread pieces to a medium bowl and pour enough cold water until it just covers the bread. Allow them to soak for 5 mins.
- Squeeze the soaked breadcrumbs with your hands and transfer them to the processor bowl.
- Process the bread together with the chargrilled peppers, chilli, Piment d’Espelette, saffron (if using), garlic and hot sauce.
- While the processor is running at a low speed, gradually pour the oil until it starts to thicken slightly and resemble mayonnaise.
- Thin out the rouille slightly with one or several tablespoons of warm water if it appears too thick.
- Season with sea salt and white/black pepper according to taste.
- Chill until needed or serve immediately with gluten-free baguette, either freshly sliced or toasted.
Homemade Fish Stock
- Chop the leeks, onions and red peppers roughly.
- In a large pot, fry the chopped vegetables in the oil for 5 mins over medium heat without browning, stirring often.
- Roughly chop the fennel, tomatoes and parsley (leaves & stems). Add to the pot.
- Add the minced garlic and fish mixture, gently frying for a few minutes.
- Lower the heat to medium-low and add the remaining ingredients except for the salt & pepper. Leave to simmer for a maximum of 45 mins with the lid off. Remove any scum that rises to the surface.
- Remove the large fish head and other bulky parts and discard.
- Pour the fish stock through a sieve into another pot. Press the contents of the sieve with the back of a spoon to extract more juices into the strained fish stock.
- Season with salt and white pepper, adjusting accordingly after several tastings.
- Either use the fish stock immediately to make Bouillabaisse soup or allow to cool down before chilling or freezing in sealed containers.
- Add the strained homemade fish stock to a pot and bring to a boil.
- Lower the heat and add the Pernod and tomato paste. Simmer for 5 mins over medium heat. Keep the heat constantly at medium heat throughout the making of Bouillabaisse.
- Once the soup starts to darken in colour, add the potato cubes and cook until the potatoes are semi-soft after about 5 to 7 mins. They should feel slightly soft when poked with a fork or knife and hold their shape.
- Add the fish fillets and cook for 2-3 mins.
- Finish off by adding the mixed seafood and cook for a final 5 mins.
- Season with sea salt and white/black pepper according to taste.
- Garnish with fresh snipped chives and serve immediately with rouille, fresh or toasted baguette slices and a lemon quarter.
- Keep warm on the lowest setting to prevent overcooking the seafood.
- Bouillabaisse is best eaten on the same day.
- Bouillabaisse is not suitable to freeze.
- Fish stock can be chilled and covered for a maximum of 2 days.
- Fish stock is suitable to freeze for a maximum of 2 months.
- Rouille keeps for 3 days chilled. Not suitable to freeze.
The ratio of fish/seafood and soup can be altered if you prefer to serve this as a casserole rather than a soup. Simply lower the amount of fish stock added to the Bouillabaisse and cover the pot with a lid to create some steam for the fish and seafood to cook in.