Sunday, January 23, 2011

Modern Bouillabaisse

I wanted to use up some seafood in our freezer - we had about a pound of cod fillets and a pound of shrimp, so this soup was perfect for that purpose. I made a double batch because I knew I was going to give some to my friend our weekly meal exchange.

Bouillabaisse used to be made with whatever fish and market produce was available.  As people became more wealthy and better fish became more readily available, the vegetables became more of an afterthought.  Bittman describes this recipe as a "return to tradition", using lots of vegetables and plenty of flexibility in what kind of fish you can use.  

I'm not sure what happened, but it seemed that by doubling the ingredients, the volume of the soup increased exponentially. Has this ever happened to anyone else? Instead of the predicted 8 servings, I estimate that we had more like 16. I'm really not exaggerating here, nor am I really complaining. It's a soup that freezes well; we put about half of it into single serving tupperware containers and froze it right away. It's been about a week since we've made it and I've already had some for lunch.  It defrosted nicely in the microwave, and the vegetables, while more tender than they were originally, were still good.

This recipe gives you the option to use shrimp stock, which is incredibly easy to make. You make it from shrimp tails, which is a good use for something you are going to throw away anyway. Just put the tails into a saucepan with a few cups of water in it, then cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Pour the liquid into a bowl or storage container - through a strainer first to remove the tails - and voila, shrimp stock. With this last 2 pound bag of shrimp we bought at Costco, we tried to remember to make a batch of shrimp stock every time we cooked with shrimp, and just kept the stock in the freezer until we needed it. You can also get fancy and add some chunks of onion, carrots, celery, lemon, or parsley stems to the simmering liquid.

Modern Bouillabaisse
adapted from Mark Bittman - Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating
Serves 4?

1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
2 leeks, white and tender green parts, trimmed and cut into coins (or use onions)
Zest from one orange
Big pinch saffron (optional)
1 dried hot chile, or a pinch of cayenne, or to taste
1 sprig fresh tarragon (optional)
2 cups chopped tomatoes (canned are fine; drain them first)
About 1 1/2 pounds small red or white potatoes, peeled if you like (we didn't) and cut into wedges
About 1 pound almost any seafood, like monkfish, cod, scallops, squid, or shrimp; peeled, skinned, boned, and cut into chunks if needed
2 carrots or parsnips, cut into 1/4-inch coins (I used both)
2 stalks celery (with the leaves if you like) sliced into 1/4-1/2-inch slices
1/2 pound sugar snap or snow peas (optional)
2 cups vegetable, shrimp, or fish stock, dry white wine or water, plus more as needed
1/2 cup roughly chopped parsley leaves, or used chopped chervil or fennel fronds if you like
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 or 2 whole grain baguettes , cut crosswise into slices and toasted if you like (optional)

Heat a dutch oven or large pot over medium high heat and add the oil.  When the oil is hot, add the leeks, fennel, garlic, and orange zest.  Cook for 3-4 minutes, or until softened, stirring occasionally.  Add the saffron, if using, the chile or cayenne, and the tarragon, if using, and cook for just a minute.  Add the tomatoes and potatoes, and cover.

Check the potatoes after about 5 minutes.  If they are not yet beginning to get tender, cover and cook for another couple of minutes (since mine was a double batch, this part took forever).  Stick the potatoes with a fork, if the fork seems to meet with just a little resistance, then add the fish, carrots and/or parsnips, celery, snap peas or snow peas if using, and stock.  Add more stock or water if needed, just to cover the fish and the vegetables.

Bring the soup to a boil, then cover and turn off the heat.  Let the soup rest with the lid on for about 5 minutes.  At that time, the vegetables that you just added should be crisp tender, and the fish should be opaque and cooked through (our chunks of cod were flaking apart).  If the fish is not cooked at this point, move the pot back on the heat and bring it to a simmer again for a few minutes.  Fish doesn't really take that long to cook though.  Stir in the parsley, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with the bread.

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