A lot of heart should be mixed into authentic French dishes to make them a success. Well that’s according to chef and baker Sébastien Boudet, whose new book, The French Baker, serves up a tribute to his country’s culinary techniques and traditions – from artisan breads and to-die-for desserts to mains full of flavour and fragrance.
Boudet journeys around France, cooking up cultural favourites such as the perfect quiche lorraine and the silkiest brioche. But, with Ryanair just about to launch new flights from Edinburgh to the Languedoc hub of Béziers (purportedly France’s oldest city), it was his southern fish dish that started to make our mouths water.
Originating in Marseille, east across the Gulf of Lion from Béziers, bouillabaisse is a traditional Provençal stew first made by fishermen from the catch they couldn’t sell at market. Once a simple delicacy, it’s now a luxury dish.
Traditionally bouillabaisse is made with fresh monkfish, John Dory, scorpion fish, red gurnard and mullet; sadly most of these species are now endangered. However, plenty of other types of seafood can be used instead – as Sébastien suggests in his recipe. The mix of Provençal herbs and spices, and the way the broth is boiled, help give it its distinctive taste.
This hearty feast is best cooked in a cast-iron pot. Not only does the pot’s rounded bottom make it perfect for simmering soups and stocks, but it looks great at a dinner party too. For a truly Marseillaise flavour, serve with crusty bread and oursins (sea urchins). Bon appétit!
2.5kg mixed fish (eg perch, walleye, haddock)
12 mussels with shells
Shells from 1-2 lobsters
Shells from 6 langoustines
200ml olive oil
10 tomatoes, chopped
2 heads of fennel, trimmed and chopped
5 onions, chopped
2 leeks, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 red chilies, finely chopped
1 parsley plant, finely chopped
4 bay leaves
15 black peppercorns
3 teaspoons saffron
1kg peeled small potatoes
1. Peel the orange. Heat the olive oil in a cast-iron pot. At low heat, sauté tomatoes, fennel, onions, chilies and orange peel, plus all the spices except the saffron. Simmer for 15 minutes.
2. Clean, de-head and fillet all the fish before turning up the heat and adding the heads and fish to the pot; keep the fillet back. Simmer for a few mins, then add the water. Close the lid; simmer for 20-30 mins.
3. Remove the pot from the heat and blend the broth with a hand mixer. Strain the soup then add the saffron.
4. Bring the bouillabaisse to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for a few mins. Add the potatoes; simmer the soup at a low heat without the lid until the potatoes are almost soft.
5. Cut the fish fillets into pieces and add them, plus the mussels, lobster and langoustine shells, just before serving. The fillet should not be cooked in the broth and should only be poached slightly.
Recipe from The French Baker by Sébastien Boudet (Skyhorse Publishing, £15)
Main image Bouillabaisse in the pot (Shutterstock)
Love travel quizzes, events and competitions? Then sign up today for free so you don’t miss out!