2kg (4½lb) rock fish, freshly caught. If you live on the Mediterranean coast, where this recipe can really be made properly, the fishermen can provide the ingredients for this soup. Generally, these will include small rascasse, rouquiers and girelles (members of the wrasse family), galinettes, small shore crabs of the kind called favouilles, and small crustaceans. A fewslices of moray eel (murène) are also not to be despised, and will add to the richness of the soup.
The most important thing is that the fishes should not be gutted, scaled or beheaded. Don’t wash them, either.
300g (10½oz) onions
1 small whole head of garlic
5 large ripe tomatoes
4dried fennel branches
2sprigs of thyme
150ml (¼pint) olive oil
¼teaspoonwhole saffron stamens
1 fine wire sieve
Peel the onions and slice finely. Cut the tomatoes into eight pieces each. Cut the whole head of garlic in two, horizontally.
Soften the onions in the olive oil in the large saucepan, and let them turn golden over a brisk heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. Keeping it over a fierce heat, put the fish in the pan and then add garlic, tomatoes and herbs and mix all together well. Let all the ingredients sweat for about 10 minutes.
Pour 5litres (8¾pints) water into the saucepan and bring to the boil. Without reducing the heat, cook at a galloping boil for 15–25 minutes. Then, and only then, add the salt, pepper and saffron.
Pass the contents of the saucepan through the coarse blade of the mouli-légumes placed over the other saucepan, having first fished out the herbs. It will be hard going, but keep working away, and eventually everything will go through.
Bring to the boil again, and, just before serving, strain through a conical wire strainer, held in your left hand over the hot soup tureen (unless you are left-handed, in which case it will be the other way round). With your right hand, pump up and down with a small ladle to extract as much as possible of this marvellous soup. Forget Rouille or grated cheese: this dish is eaten simply with thin slices of French bread rubbed with garlic.