1 cup yellow onions, sliced
1/3 cup leeks, sliced, white part only
1/2 cup olive oil
2-3 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped
4 garlic cloves, mashed
2 1/2 quarts water
6 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon thyme or basil
1/8 teaspoon fennel
Saffron, 2 big pinches
Dried orange peel, 2-inch piece
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
3-4 pounds fish heads, including bones and trimmings
6-8 pounds assorted lean fish and shellfish
French bread, toasted
1/3 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
Choosing the Fish: Some of the fish should be firm fleshed and gelatinous, like halibut, eel and cusk; some should be tender and flaky like hake, whiting and sole. Fish for bouillabaisse should be lean and of the best and freshest-smelling quality—bass, cod, conger or sea eel, cusk, flounder, grouper, grunt, haddock, hake or whiting, halibut, perch, pollock, rockfish or sculpin, snapper, spot, sea trout or weakfish, wolffish. Shellfish are optional but always add glamour and color—crab, lobster, mussels, clams, scallops.
To Prepare Fish: Clean and scale the fish; discard gills. Save heads, bones, and trimmings for the soup base. Cut large fish into crosswise slices, 2 inches wide. Scrub clams; scrub and soak mussels; wash scallops. If using live crab or lobster, split just before cooking; remove sand sack and intestinal tube from lobsters, and tail flap from under crabs. Except for live lobsters and crabs, all the fish may be cleaned, sliced, and refrigerated several hours before the final cooking. The soup base may be boiled, strained, and refrigerated. The actual cooking of the fish in the soup will take only about 20 minutes, and then the dish should be served immediately.
For the Soup Base: In a heavy 8-quart kettle cook the onions and leeks slowly in the olive oil for 5 minutes without browning. Stir in the tomatoes and garlic, and cook 5 minutes more. Add the water, herbs, seasoning and fish or clam juice to the kettle. Bring to boil, skim and cook, uncovered, at the slow boil for 30 to 40 minutes. Strain, correct seasoning. Set aside, uncovered, until cool. If you are not finishing the bouillabaisse immediately, then refrigerate.
To Serve: Bring the soup base to a rapid boil in the kettle about 20 minutes before serving. Add lobsters, crabs and firm-fleshed fish. Bring quickly back to the boil and boil rapidly, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Then add the tender-fleshed fish plus clams, mussels and scallops. Bring back to the boil again for 5 minutes; do not overcook. Immediately lift out the fish and arrange on the platter. Carefully taste soup for seasoning, place 6 to 8 slices of bread in the tureen, and pour in the soup. Spoon a ladleful of soup over the fish, and sprinkle parsley over both fish and soup. Serve immediately. At the table, each guest is served or helps himself to both fish and soup, placing them in a large soup plate. Eat the bouillabaisse with a large soup spoon and fork, helped along with additional pieces of French bread for dipping.
Adapted from The French Chef Cookbook, by Julia Child.
Recipe and photo courtesy of Central Market.