FOR ANYONE who has spent any time on the French Riviera, the name bouillabaisse can bring back fond memories. In essence, a bouillabaisse is simply a “fish boil” with lots of good flavors. The local fish traditionally used were small; they were the ones left behind in the fisherman’s nets. But instead of being thrown back, the fish were thrown into a pot with local flavoring ingredients and boiled. The result was a platter of fish and a very flavorful broth.
The recipe that follows uses only seafood easily available in this country (which is why I called it American Bouillabaisse) and is really just an elaboration of my Mediterranean Fish Soup, which you can make well ahead of time (and even have stored in the freezer).
The only ingredients the least bit difficult to find are fresh fennel, saffron, and savory. For the fennel, you can substitute 1 teaspoon of aniseed or fennel seed or 1 tablespoon of an anise-flavored aperitif such as Pernod or Ricard. Unfortunately, there is no substitute for saffron if you want this to be a bouillabaisse instead of just a fish stew, although it will still be very good. If you do not have savory, omit it.
To serve the bouillabaisse, place a basket of toasted slices of French bread on the table with dishes of aioli and rouille. Each diner spreads one of the two flavorful mayonnaises on the toast rounds before adding them to the bowl with the soup and fish.