Not Bouillabaisse

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…well almost. The debate about what makes an “authentic” Bouillabaisse can be argued until kingdom come but I’m not about to give my two cents on the matter because honestly, I’ve had 1 or 2 of this in my entire life. Granted that it was from a reputable brasserie in New York, but I think I should actually taste it from its place of origin – Marseille – to join the opinionated contention of whether it should have lobster or white wine and the type of fish should be used. However, I have it straight from a French gal that each region in France has their own version of this esteemed fish stew.

Searching for a recipe to use was not difficult. I’ve always liked Anthony Bourdain’s relaxed writing style in his cookbook, Les Halle, it almost feels like he is there with you, guiding you through an afternoon of companionable cooking – he even tells you when to take a sip of wine in between cooking stages.
As I read the recipe list for Bouillabaisse, I realized that it was not a spur of the moment dish. Granted that Bourdain offered substitions for the conger, loup de mer and rouget in the recipe, where in Richmond, Va can I find porgies or whiting fish at 9:00 am on a Sunday morning? I’m sure they’ll have monkfish, skate and red snapper at Whole foods, but I need the little fish for flavoring the broth. Fumbling through my pantry at ten till midnight, I found … shrimp bouillon – I can just see Ruhlman shaking his head in disapproval and now you all know why I dare not call this a Bouillabaisse. Going to bed that night, I pondered the other missing ingredient, Pernod, oh boy, this dish was moving further and further away from my original aspiration.

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Whole Food’s dealt me another blow the following morning as the fish monger informed me that they have not had monk fish for a while now. There was also no 1.5 lb. red snapper in sight! That’s it! My mind screamed in exasperation, but then I pictured the “Hungry” Hubby and me starving for the rest of the day. Seven minutes felt like a lifetime as I stared through their seafood case hoping that a monkfish will apparate (okay, I watched Harry Potter the night before.), but alas as customers happily walked away with their salmon or rockfish fillet, I knew I had to make substitutions. I also bought some clam juice just in case I decided not to use the bouillon.

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Almost Bouillabaisse
Based on Tony Bourdain’s recipe from Les Halle

2 oz. olive oil
2 leeks, white part only, washed and thinly sliced
2 small onions, thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves
3 fresh plum tomatoes, seeded and thinly sliced
1 1/2 lbs. whole snapper (red snapper preferred), head removed and set aside, scaled and gutted but skin still on, cut right across the spine into 4 steaks.
1 bouquet garni (1 sprig parsley, 2 sprig thyme, 1 bay leaf)
3 strands of saffron
8 small red potatoes
2 lbs. of 2 different fish (I used 1 lb. halibut and 1 lb. black cod)
salt and pepper
extra-virgin olive oil
12 fresh shrimp, heads on preferred
1 shrimp bouillon

2 garlic cloves
small pinch of salt
5 strands of saffron
1 egg yolk
2 oz. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbs. lemon juice
sliced toasted baguette

In a large heavy bottomed pot, heat the oil. Add the leek, garlic, onions and fennel and let them sweat over medium heat for about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes. Add the fish head and cook for about 5 minutes. Add about 4 cups of water, the shrimp bouillon and the bouquet garni. Simmer for 30 minutes.
Turn the heat off and using a mallet, crush the heck out of everything in the pot. Empty everything into a strainer and squeeze every last drop of tasty broth out of it. Set liquid aside.

Make the aioli. In a food processor, puree the garlic and salt. Add the yolk and saffron threads. Mix very well. Now, while the machine is running, slowly, slowly drizzle the olive oil until you get a mayonnaise consistency, Add the lemon juice at the very end. Adjust thickness with a little oil if needed, as the lemon juice will thin the mix. Remove from machine into a ramekin, cover with plastic and reserve for later.

In a small pot, boil the potatoes until cooked 3/4 of the way. Remove from pot and cut in half.

In a large pot arrange the remaining fish (except the shrimp) in a single layer if possible. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle some olive oil on top. Nestle the cut potatoes in between the fish. Add half the broth, bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Two minutes before the fish is done, add the shrimp and the remaining liquid. Add additional saffron threads if needed to enhance aroma and color of the broth. Simmer the entire glorious mess until everything is cooked through.

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