Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Mission: Bouillabaisse

At the last minute, Charles and I decided to have a New Year's party. And I decided to make Bouillabaisse. You know, bounty of the sea in a pot? It’s ambitious, sure, but I like a challenge. Oh wait, did I mention that I had 20 people at my house for New Years’? (See previous sentence about appreciating difficulty.) Besides, I needed some help kicking 2006 into a bloody pulp and how better than to serve something so decadent and yet simple. Besides, there is something practically re-incarnating about seafood. Something about eating food native to that chaotic premordial global amniotic fluid: the ocean. It's resorative.

First step: call Travis. Travis is my partner in BBQ-NYC and when he’s not riding me about how many paper plates I’ve purchased he’s working as a fishmonger at Central Market in Austin, Texas. Travis sketched out a plan for me. It had a few parts. And all the parts had parts. But, here goes, I will attempt to recount them.

Basic Ingredients
7 lb red snapper bones
3 lbs tilapia
2 lbs cod
2 lbs flounder
1 dozen little neck clams
4 lbs mussels
1 lbs baby octopus
2 lbs red potatoes
3 lbs carrots
2 lbs yellow onion
1 fennel bulb
1 head of celery
3 red peppers

Step One. Fish Stock

What every good fish stock needs? Fresh veggies and fish heads. Check and check.

Charles and I had made a b-line to Fairway for 7 lbs of fish bones. We went with the Red Snapper bones…yes, for this venture I checked my marine-conscience at the door. Or, quite nearly. I didn’t abandon all responsibility to the sea, but compromises were made.

First things first: mirepoix. Generally, a mirepoix is 2 parts onion, 1 parts celery and 1 part carrot, sautéed in butter. My twist: 2 parts onion, 1 part carrot, 1 part celery AND 1 part fennel.

(Note: this step is not without pain.)


I cooked the mirepoix until it was soft and aromatic,

I added the bones, then some leek greens, parsley stems, an entire garlic bulb, a teaspoon of Mexican saffron threads (fragrant and fine on the budget) , and 3 gallons of water.

From there, it took almost a half hour to get up to a rolling boiling
and from there it was about an hour of skimming grey and white foamy waste bits from the top. Then, I carefully strained the broth through a cheesecloth-lined colander.

It yielded about 3 gallons of very delicate and lovely broth. I cooled it and placed the broth in plastic bags and placed them in the freezer.

Next day. Party time.

I boiled a couple of pounds of red potatoes.

Meanwhile, I sautéed carrots, leeks, and peppers in butter. When just gently softened, I added the potatoes and the frozen stock. While the liquid slowly, slowly comes up to a simmer, you’ve got time to enjoy the party a little. Mingle. Have some champagne. Try a little of the fondue. (Charles made a most excellent chipotle fondue.)

More champagne, sure! Don’t mind if I do! Oh yes, and you might want to wash and chop up all the white fish. Scrub the shellfish. Have another glass of Cava, why don’t you?

Ok, now that the pot is up to a simmer, throw in the fish. A full boil? Great, toss in the shellfish and octopus, close the lid, and wait for the clams to open. Have another glass of champagne. (Oh how I wish I’d not forgotten entirely to take photos of this conclusion of my bouillabaisse! The baby octopus curled up in such a lovely way – they were delicious. And I forgot to add the cooking wine…and the fresh parsley...and the...oh well.)

And when the clams opened, dinner was served. Served with no-knead bread, of course. And it was delicious. Let’s hope it ushers in a better year. For the most part, 2006 was a catastrophe. Good riddance. I've got a feeling that 007 will be much better to me.


Blogger Le Porq said...

All hail Fairway -- those tetes de poisson looked fantastically fresh...and appear to be true domestic Gulf snapper too (along with a Salmon skull for oil and complexity) -- truth be told that's where good bouillabaisse starts: good stock, l'ecume duty and time....your OPF (Own Personal Fishmonger) is Oh So Proud.

A note: gulf snapper isn't an endangered fish, though without the careful regulations and quotas in place in gulf coast fisheries, it would definitely be over-fished...the major fear factor is the black market pirated catches, but I seriously doubt Fairway would support these practices. Starting this year new quota systems are being implemented to further stem the flow of illegally "becaughten" fishes to market. I think the gulf coast states and Mexico are learning from the great cod fiasco in the northeast. Here's hoping, at least.

Buon Appetito!

12:30 PM  

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