Bouillabaisse is a traditional fish stew originating from the port city of Marseille. The French and English forms of bouillabaisse come from the word bolhabaissa, a compound that consists of the two verbs ‘bolhir’ (to boil) and ‘abaissar’ (to reduce heat).
Bouillabaisse is a seafood soup made with various kinds of cooked fish, shellfish and vegetables flavored with a variety of herbs and spices like garlic, orange peel, basil, bay leaf, fennel and saffron. In a traditional bouillabaisse there are at least three kinds of fish used typically the scorpionfish (rascasse), sea robin (grondin) and European conger (conger) and can also include other fishes like the gilt-heat bream, turbot, monkfish, mullet or silver hake.
Vegetables such as leeks, onions, tomatoes, celery and potatoes are simmered together with the broth and served with the fish. The broth is traditionally served with a rouille, a mayonnaise made of olive oil, garlic, saffron and cayenne pepper on grilled slices of bread. What makes a bouillabaisse different from other fish soups is the selection of Provençal herbs and spices in the broth, the use of bony local Mediterranean fish, and the method of serving. In Marseille, the broth is served first in a bowl containing the bread and rouille, with the seafood and vegetables served separately in another bowl or on a platter.
Bouillabaisse is cooked in different ways that vary from family to family in Marseille. In Marseille, bouillabaisse is rarely made for fewer than ten persons; the more people who share the meal, and the more different fish that are included, the better the bouillabaisse.
According to tradition, the origins of the dish date back to the time of the Phoceans, an Ancient Greek people who founded Marseille in 600 BC. Then, the population ate a simple fish stew known in Greek as ‘kakavia.’ Something similar to Bouillabaisse also appears in Roman mythology: it is the soup that Venus fed to Vulcan. The dish known today as bouillabaisse was created by Marseille fishermen who wanted to make a meal when they returned to port. Rather than using the more expensive fish, they cooked the common rockfish and shellfish that they pulled up with their nets and lines, usually fish that were too bony to serve in restaurants, cooking them in a cauldron of sea water on a wood fire and seasoning them with garlic and fennel. Tomatoes were added to the recipe in the 17th century, after their introduction from America.
In the 19th century, as Marseille became more prosperous, bouillabaisse was served to upper class patrons in most of the restaurants and hotels. The recipe of bouillabaisse became more refined, with the substitution of fish stock for boiling water, and the addition of saffron. Bouillabaisse spread from Marseille to Paris, and then gradually around the world, adapted to local ingredients and tastes.
To prepare this traditional and delicious Bouillabaisse, firstly heat some olive oil in a large saucepan and add the chopped onions, leeks, tomatoes and garlic. Sauté and stir over a low heat for few minutes until all vegetables are soft. Add in the fennel, thyme, bay leaf and orange zest and mix well. Add shellfish and boiling water, stir to combine all the ingredients.
Add salt and black pepper to taste and turn up the heat to high and allow boiling for about 3 minutes so that the oil and water combines together. Add fish and reduce the heat to medium flame. Continue cooking for another 12 to 15 minutes or until the fish is cooked. The fish should be opaque and tender but still firm. Fish should not be falling apart. Taste the bouillabaisse and adjust the seasoning. Stir in saffron and then pour the soup into a warmed tureen or soup bowls. Serve immediately.
Bouillabaisse is the most famous fish stew of the Mediterranean. It is truly exotic and exceptional in taste and flavors. Do try this dish by clicking the link for the detailed recipe at:
Generally similar dishes are found in Portugal (caldeirada), Spain (sopa de pescado y marisco, suquet de peix), Italy (zuppa di pesce), Greece and all the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea; where these kinds of dishes have been made since the Neolithic Era. What makes a bouilabaisse different from these other dishes are the local Provençal herbs and spices, the particular selection of bony Mediterranean coastal fish and the way the broth is served separately from the fish and vegetables.