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Recipe: Bastard Bouillabaisse of a Half-Dozen Fathers

Serves four
 
The broth
1 medium yellow onion
1 leek
1 fennel bulb
olive oil
4 garlic cloves
2 ounces tomato paste
1 well-trimmed orange peel
1 cup white wine
2½ quarts (10 cups) water
2 small tilapia or red snapper (for the bones)
 
The seasonings
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
pinch of saffron
1 teaspoon salt  (then to taste)
1 teaspoon pepper
 
The bouillabaaisse
4 sea bass fillets
½ pound mussels
½ pound clams
½ pound shrimp (shell-on)
 
The rouille
6 garlic cloves
1 egg yolk
½ cup olive oil
bread crumbs (a healthy handful)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 saffron strands
pinch of cayenne
baguette
 
 
INSTRUCTIONS
Before you reach for your pots and pans, practice your pseudo-French accent: Oui oui, c’est bon!

The broth
1. Peel and chop the yellow onion; rinse and chop the white/light-green parts of the leek. Julienne the bulb of fennel and mince the garlic. Set the vegetables aside. Have some white wine—not the cooking wine.
 
2. Remove the fins and fillet the tilapia (or snapper). Separate the fish head from the spine.  Save the fish head and the fish bones. Save fillets for tacos or seviche or something.
 
3. De-shell shrimp. Set the shrimp shells aside and put the cleaned shrimp back in the fridge. Wash the clams; wash and de-beard mussels. Place the clams and mussels in the refrigerator behind the shrimp, so they know they’re slightly less important.
 
4. In a large stockpot or kettle, sweat onion, leek, and fennel in olive oil over low heat for approximately 5 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2-to-3 more minutes. Add white wine and tomato paste. Squeeze orange peel over the mixture to release the citrus oils.
 
5. Add the water and season with thyme, bay leaf, saffron, salt, and pepper. Bring to a bare simmer.
 
6. In a sauté pan, lightly cook the fish head and bones in a little olive oil over low heat.
 
7. Add the fish head, fish bones, and shrimp shells to the simmering stock. Cook on low heat, uncovred, for at least 2 hours, or approximately one episode of The Bachelor. Stir the stock during commercial breaks. This is also a good time to make your rouille (see below).
 
8. While stirring, use a heavy spoon or ladle to push fish heads and bones up against the side of the pot, crushing them into pieces and releasing all their seafood flavor. If you haven’t already done so, apologize to the fish.
 
9. After simmering, strain the broth through a sieve into another pot. In the sieve, crush/mash all the vegetables and fish to squeeze out every last drop of fluid and flavor. Discard the fish bone/vege detritus.
 
10.  Return the broth to simmer and adjust seasoning. (My wife always asks me to add more salt, but I’m not here to tell you how you should like your broth.)
 
The bouillabaisse
1. Remember: Multiple chefs agree that the most important part of cooking a successful bouillabaisse (outside of a good broth, which you now have) is in the timing of the cooking of the fish. Add the seafood in the order of its cooking time: Whatever takes the longest goes in first. Hint: I started with the sea bass.
 
2. Gently place the sea bass into the simmering broth and poach for 3-to-4 minutes.
 
3. As the fillets poach, add the shellfish (shrimp, mussels, clams), taking care not to harm your whitefish.
 
4. Poach until the fillets are cooked through and all the shellfish have popped open. This goes fast, so pay attention: Turn the TV off and cork or cap your wine.
 
5. Carefully remove the sea bass from the broth and place each fillet in the center of a serving bowl.
 
6. Arrange the shellfish (a couple clams, a few mussels, a few shrimp) artfully around the sea bass.  Make it look good.
 
7. Ladle the broth around and over fish and shellfish until it’s just about to cover the sea bass.
 
8. Optional: Pray this recipe doesn’t kill anyone. (That’s what I did.)
 
The rouille
1. Mince the garlic in a food processor, then while running, add the egg yolk.
 
2. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil.
 
3. Realize that you are basically making a ridiculously garlick-y, slightly bready mayonnaise.
 
4.  After the oil, egg yolk, and garlic create a mayo-y emulsion, add bread crumbs, lemon juice, Dijon, saffron, and cayenne to taste.
 
5. Toast the baguette slices on a baking sheet in a 400-degree oven until . . . well, toasty.
 
6. Slather the toasted baguette slices with rouille and eat alongside the bouillabaisse. Also use the baguettes to soak up the broth.
 
7. Remind everyone at the table how long this dinner took to make (which it did) and how hard it was to cook (not really).

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