Monday, April 28, 2008

Southern French (Provencal): Bouillabaisse and Salad Nicoise

Bouillabaisse may well be my all time favorite meal. It is a pure and straightforward preparation yet it still has a certain mystique that separates it from the everyday.
All cuisines with which I am familiar, at least all that were developed with some stretch of seacoast available, have a dish similar to Bouillabaisse (Ex. Italian Brodetto, or Cacciucco Livornese, Spanish Zarzuela, or Greek Kakavia). Its origin is just like that of the rest, it is a fisherman’s stew based on the very flavorful yet lower in demand products of their efforts. The name tells the story; based on the French terms bouillir (to boil) and baisse (waste). Using rock fish common to the Mediterranean, such as scorpion fish, conger eel, St. Peter’s fish, angler fish (monkfish), sea bream and whiting, French fishermen assembled a flavorful array from what used to be less popular species. Today we recognize the value of these fish; no longer “trash” fish, they have become highly sought after choices, and, as such, have become much more expensive than once upon a time.
Producing a “true” Bouillabaisse requires the use of at least some of these native Mediterranean fin fish as well as an assortment of crustaceans. Can you produce a Bouillabaisse with native species instead? Of course, but you need to re-name the dish to account for the origin of this different version.
Bouillabaisse is traditionally served in its two main components; the fish and crustaceans are removed from the soup and piled high on a platter while the soup is served separately in a tureen. A traditional accompaniment is a toasted crouton topped with rouille, which is a spicy red pepper and saffron laced version of aioli.

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