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:
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
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.
© 1995 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.