Editor's note: This post marks the first of former Serious Eats intern Kerry Saretsky's French in a Flash series. After this one they will run on Thursdays each week. Bon appétit!
These days are not the times for heedless extravagance. But, still, no circumstances could or should require the complete abandon of food that is elegant, chic, gratifying, and, of course, ultimately delicious. The one thing you can never take from a French girl like me is joie de vivre. Growing up in New York, I witnessed firsthand the reputation French food has for walking hand-in-hand with Le Cirque price tags. But I got all the fanciful allure and peasanty goodness of real French food free at my mother's kitchen table. With this new series, I will show you how to make fresh, modern takes on French classics in just minutes. No Cordon Bleu degree required. So run out and buy the ingredients, and I'll provide the pinch of je ne sais quoi that makes French food so irresistible.
This week, we are starting with an avant-garde bouillabaisse.
Bouillabaisse is a fish stew from the port city of Marseille (where my mother was born), flavored and stained with saffron. It is hearty but light, exotic but comforting, all at once. It can contain any jumble of seafood, but in this deconstructed (and oh so simple to make) version, the buttery Chilean sea bass is seared separately from the almost-instant broth, and is served perched on a bed of onion, fennel, and tomatoes, afloat in a sea of bouillabaisse sauce studded with onyx-black mussels, and creamy little rock shrimp. I can't imagine any thick, flaky fish that this recipe would not work for, so go ahead and substitute salmon or halibut or swordfish, and adjust your cooking time accordingly. For that matter, you could use clams and calamari instead of mussels and rock shrimp. You are Monet, and bouillabaisse is your canvas. Bouillabaisse and other southern French fish soups are traditionally served with rouille, a little side aioli made with bread crumbs, garlic, saffron, and peppers. This dish takes less than 30 minutes to make, including my "shortcut" rouille, and is impressive enough to serve to kings. As we say en famille, "bon app"!
A Note on Some Ingredients
Canned tomatoes that are "petite diced" are readily available--you'll notice them once you stop to look for them. If you can't find them, however, don't despair; simply drain a can of regularly diced tomatoes, and give them a rough chop to avoid any huge chunks.
Fish stock can be elusive in the regular grocery store for some reason. For this recipe I used Fumet de Poisson Gold, a little disc full of concentrated fish stock that I bought at Whole Foods. I then diluted 1 tablespoon of the concentrate in 2 1/2 cups hot water, and let it set and dissolve together covered for an hour before using.
Try to find rock shrimps that are previously peeled and deveined if you can, to save yourself some work. Substituting with regular shrimp is totally fine.
When cooking with mussels, remember the golden rule: throw out any open shells before cooking, and any closed shells after cooking.
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil, plus more for sautéing the fish
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced, with fronds reserved for garnish
- Salt and pepper
- 1 clove garlic, sliced
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) petite diced tomatoes, drained
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 2 1/2 cups fish stock
- 1 teaspoon saffron
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 dozen rock shrimps, peeled and deveined
- 1 dozen mussels
- 4 fillets (4- to 6-ounce) Chilean sea bass
- For the Rouille with Baguette Toasts
- 1/2 day-old baguette, sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 cloves garlic
- Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
- 5 filets roasted red pepper from a jar
- Salt and pepper
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat in a heavy-bottomed, wide pot with sides high enough to contain 3 cups of liquid—I use my risotto pan. When the oil is warm, add the sliced onion and fennel to the pot, and season with salt and pepper. Allow the vegetables to sweat for 2 minutes, and then add in the sliced garlic. Cook the vegetables for another 3 minutes.
Next, add in the can of drained petite diced tomatoes and the white wine. Raise the heat to high, and allow the wine to reduce slightly for about 2 minutes.
Add the fish stock to the pot, and add in the saffron and the bay leaf. When the stock comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and allow the stock to simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. It is this part of the process from which "bouillabaisse" gets its name: the first part of the word means "to boil," and the second, "to lower." The saffron will bloom in the simmering liquid, and will steep like tea in the stock, causing it to turn its trademark marigold color. Season again lightly with salt and pepper.
After 10 minutes have passed, add in the rock shrimp and the mussels, and stir them around in the bouillabaisse broth. They should take no more than 3 minutes to cook; the shrimp will turn from grey to coral in color, and the mussels will open.
While the stock is simmering, cook the sea bass. Begin by seasoning the sea bass well with salt and pepper on both sides. Then cover the bottom of a large nonstick sauté pan with olive oil—a typical pan will require about 2 tablespoons. Heat the oil on medium-high heat, and when the oil starts to shimmer, add the four filets of fish. Cook for about 3-4 minutes per side, until golden.
Rouille with Baguette Toasts: To toast the baguette, arrange the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet, and run into a 350-degree oven until dry and golden, about 10 minutes, but keep an eye on them!
For the rouille, combine the mayonnaise, garlic, lemon juice and zest, and roasted red pepper in a mini food processor, and season with salt and pepper. Blend until puréed and combined. Rouille, which translates to "rust," because of the color it traditionally takes on from saffron and peppers, can be served alongside the bouillabaisse with these little baguette toasts—perfect for dipping and shoveling in the broth.