Bourride, Bien Sûr!

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Food of the Sun: A Fresh Look at Mediterranean Cooking

Food of the Sun

By Alastair Little and Richard Whittington

Published 1995

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Keeping white fish heads and bones in the freezer, so that you have the wherewithal to make fumet or fish stock when required, is good kitchen practice. Always rinse the bones well and cut out the gills before freezing. Most fishmongers will be happy to give you heads and bones. Any white fish - like sole, turbot, brill, cod, conger eel, monkfish and whiting - are good for stock. Avoid oily fish, like mackerel, salmon or herring. Any shellfish heads and shells are excellent additions. A good time to make fish stock is when you have crab or lobster shells after another meal, otherwise buy a hen crab and bash it up with a mallet or rolling pin.

The amounts given are for 8-10 people, because this is a special dish that lends itself to sharing on a large scale. The addition of tiger prawns or langoustines (scampi) - say 3 per person - can add a nice luxurious touch. Ask your fishmonger to fillet the fish for you in order to give you the required 1.8 kg/4 lb fillets and ask for 1 kg/ lb of white fish heads and bones for the broth. Apart from the fish mentioned, conger eel, cod and even coley are also fine.

Grated Gruyère is a common addition at the table, but it is strictly optional.


  • 1.8 kg/4 lb mixed white fish fillets, including a monkfish tail, sea bass or sea bream and red mullet, plus 1 kg/2 lb white fish heads and bones
  • 24-30 raw tiger prawns or langoustines (optional)
  • 8 ripe plum tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp Pastis, Pernod or Arak
  • 16 saffron strands

For the Broth

  • 450 g/1 lb onions
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1 head of fennel
  • 450 g/1 lb leeks
  • 4 celery stalks
  • 2 carrots
  • 285 g/10 oz potatoes (optional)
  • bunch of flat-leaf parsley
  • 125 ml/4 fl oz olive oil
  • 1 hen crab or shells of crabs and lobsters
  • 900 g/2 lb tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 or 4 strips of dried orange peel
  • 1 bottle (750 ml/27 fl oz) of cheap dry white wine
  • 3 litres/5 pt boiling water

For the Rouille

  • 10 saffron strands
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 300 ml/½ pt sunflower oil
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 lemon
  • 300 ml/½ pt olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • Harissa, to taste

To Serve

  • 1 thin baguette (ficelle), for croûtes
  • olive oil, for greasing
  • 115 g/4 oz Gruyère cheese (optional)



First make the rouille: pour 2 tablespoons of boiling water over the saffron threads in a small bowl and leave to steep for 15 minutes. Put the egg yolks in a bowl and beat lightly. Start dribbling in the sunflower oil, a few drops at a time, until the mixture binds together. When it thickens, add the mustard. Juice the lemon and add to the mixture. Mix the remaining oils and add these at a slightly faster rate, until you have a thick rich mayonnaise. Add the saffron strands and their soaking liquid. Season and stir in just enough harissa, a teaspoonful at a time, to achieve the heat intensity you find most pleasing.

Meanwhile, prepare the croûtes: preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas7. Cut the baguette across into 1 cm/½ in slices. Brush them on both sides with a little of the olive oil, arrange on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until golden brown. Check every few minutes, because they burn fast!

Prepare the vegetables for the broth: peel and chop the onion and garlic. Dice the fennel. Trim, rinse and coarsely chop the leeks and celery. Peel and coarsely chop the carrots. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 2 cm/¾ in dice. Destalk and chop the parsley.

Prepare the other ingredients: skin the fish fillets, reserving the skins. Peel the prawns or langoustines if using, reserving the shells.


To make the broth: in a large heavy saucepan, fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil until translucent, taking care not to let them brown as this would ruin the flavour.

Bash the crab to small pieces (if it is live, aiming the first stroke between the eyes is the recommended humane means of despatch) and add to the pot or add the shells, together with fish heads and bones and any skins. Add any prawn or langoustine shells.

Add all the vegetables, together with the canned tomatoes with their liquid, the thyme, parsley (reserving a good handful for garnish), bay leaves and orange peel. Pour in the wine and the boiling water. Bring to the boil. Skim, lower the heat to a simmer and cook gently for 30 minutes.

Strain into a clean saucepan through a sieve, pushing with a wooden spoon to extract all the juices. Taste and season with salt and pepper. With the addition of some puréed cooked fish this basic fish stock becomes a soup in its own right.

Blanch the tomatoes for 60 seconds in boiling water, refresh in cold water, then peel and dice. Add to the broth and bring to a simmer. Add the saffron and the Pastis, Pernod or Arak. (Adding these at this late stage delivers a much more emphatic taste — add saffron too soon and much of its unique and expensive taste cooks out.)

Cut the fish fillets into large chunks and add to the broth. After 3 minutes, add the peeled deveined prawns or langoustines, if using. Poach for a further 2 minutes (5 minutes in total), when the fish flesh should be opaque and just cooked.

Transfer the cooked fish to a warmed serving dish. This makes it easier to apportion.


Place the fish in large soup bowls, ladle over broth and scatter on some parsley. Offer the baguette croûtes and rouille at the table for people to help themselves by spooning some rouille on the bread, adding a spoonful of grated cheese on top if using, and then floating the slices on their broth.

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