Certain recipes are so complicated, so expensive, and so high-stakes that they become, for adventurous home cooks, the equivalent of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or sailing a boat around the world.
Bouillabaisse is that sort of recipe. Originating from Marseille (in France), bouillabaisse–at least, the authentic kind–asks you to make your own fish stock (with fish bones that you have to collect from a fish purveyor), to use that stock to flavor bread for a rouille (an emulsion of garlic, egg yolks, the soaked bread and a roasted red pepper and tomato), to marinate fish in a mixture of white wine, Pernod and saffron, to form a soup base with chopped leeks, onions, tomatoes and white wine, and finally to cook the marinated fish (which, if you buy it fresh, will be expensive) in the soup (made with the stock) along with mussels and clams just enough so nothing overcooks. Yes: that’s a lot of work but then the results speak for themselves. When I made this last week, our dinner guests swooned over their bowls of bouillabaisse–there were actual groans of pleasure at the table–and I’d easily list it as one of my greatest culinary triumphs. Here’s how the whole odyssey began.