Traditionally, bouillabaisse was made by cooking pieces of white fish in a broth of tomatoes, oil, garlic, saffron and herbs, but it is now common to include shellfish as well. Bouillabaisse was once a humble affair, made by French fishermen on their boats as a way to use up fish that weren’t suitable for market. The soup and the fish can be served separately, the soup followed by the fish, but it is more usual to see them eaten together.

A good bouillabaisse is said to include at least seven different types of fish, and debate still takes place over which varieties are best to use. The people of Marseilles, the home of the bouillabaisse, consider the strong-tasting racasse to be the quintessential element. You can use any seafood combination to make the soup. Use the shellfish and fish as suggested in the recipe or add shellfish such as crab (pictured) — whatever seafood is freshest and in season.

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Ingredients

  • 300 g (10½ oz) raw prawns (shrimp)
  • 16–18 black mussels
  • 200 g (7 oz) scallops
  • 1.5 kg (3 lb 5 oz) assorted white fish fillets (such as red rock cod, snapper, mullet, monkfish, john dory, sea bass, bream)
  • 5 ripe tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1.25 litres (5 cups) fish stock
  • pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 5 cm (2 inch) strip of orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Rouille

  • 1 small red capsicum (pepper)
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 slice white bread, crusts removed
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 80 ml ( fl oz/ cup) olive oil

Method

  1. Peel the prawns and gently pull out the dark vein from each prawn back, starting at the head end. Scrub the mussels with a stiff brush and pull out the hairy beards. Discard any broken mussels, or open ones that don’t close when tapped on the work surface. Slice or pull off any vein, membrane or hard white muscle from the scallops, leaving any roe attached. Cut the fish into large bite-sized pieces. Refrigerate the seafood, covered.
  2. To peel the tomatoes, score a cross in the base of each tomato. Put in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave for 30 seconds, then transfer to cold water and peel the skin away from the cross. Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. Roughly chop the flesh.
  3. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, add the fennel and onion and cook for 5 minutes, or until golden. Add the tomato and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the stock, saffron, bay leaf, bouquet garni and orange zest. Bring to the boil and boil for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to simmer and add the scallops, prawns, mussels and fish. Simmer for 4–5 minutes, or until the mussels open. Discard any unopened mussels. Remove the bouquet garni and orange zest.
  4. To make the rouille, cut the capsicum and chilli into large flattish pieces. Remove the seeds and membrane and cook, skin side up, under a hot grill (broiler) until the skin blackens and blisters. Place the capsicum and chilli in a plastic bag and leave to cool, then peel.
  5. Soak the bread in 60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) water, then squeeze out any excess. Process the capsicum, chilli, bread, garlic and egg yolk in a food processor. With the motor running, add the oil in a thin stream, until the mixture is thick and smooth.
  6. Ladle the bouillabaisse into bowls, sprinkle with parsley and serve with the rouille and crusty bread.
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