I just watched 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould while reading a certain famous cookbook (I’m a multi-tasker) and I came up with a game called “Five Prefaces to Bouillabaisse.” Here’s how it works. In a moment, I will type out five prefaces to Bouillabaisse. Four of them come from either famous cookbooks or famous authors and the fifth is made up by me. None of them (except the one by me) are from obscure sources like the Sally Struthers Weight Loss Fish Stew Cookbook. So it’s a fair game. And a fun game. It’s totally going to make your Tuesday. If anyone guesses all five correctly they will win…nothing, but they will be hailed in the follow-up post tomorrow night! So without further ado, let’s begin…
(1) “The fish should be more than fresh, it should be caught and cooked the same day. This is what gives the dish its quality. There must be many different kinds of fish to give the proper flavour. It is not only the ingredients that go into the sauce–which is not a sauce but a soup–it is the flavour of the fish that predominates. There should be at least five different kinds of fish. In Marseilles where the Bouillabaisse was born there are frequently seven or more not counting the shellfish. It cannot be repeated too often that they must be very fresh. In France there are three different kinds of Bouillabaisse–the unique and authentic one of Marseilles with Mediterranean fish, the one of Paris made of fish from the Atlantic, and a very false one indeed made of fresh-water fish.”
(2) “I don’t have the patience to make bouillabaisse because it always takes a whole day to make. However, I love this seafood stew becasue it has the same flavors and, once the stock is made, only takes about an hour. Placing a slice of toasted bread in the bottom of each bowl before you ladle in the hot soup adds that extra something.”
(3) You can make as dramatic a production as you want out of a bouillabaisse, but remember it originated as a simple, Mediterranean fisherman’s soup, made from the day’s catch or its unsalable leftovers, and flavored with the typical condiments of the region–olive oil, garlic, leeks or onions, tomatoes, and herbs. The fish are rapidly boiled in an aromatic broth and are removed to a platter; the broth is served in a tureen. Each guest helps himself to both and eats them together in a big soup plate. If you wish to serve wine, choose a rose, or a light, strong, young red such as a Cotes de Provence or Beaujolais, or a strong, dry, white wine from the Cotes de Provence or a Riesling.
Ideally you should pick six or more varieties of fresh fish, which is why a bouillabaisse is at its best when made for at least six people. Some of the fish should be firm-fleshed and gelatinous like halibut, eel, and winter flounder, and some tender and flaky like hake, baby cod, small pollock, and lemon sole. Shellfish are neither necessary nor particularly typical, but they always add glamor and color if you wish to include them.
The fish, except for live lobsters and crabs, may be cleaned, sliced, and refrigerated several hours before the final cooking. The soup base may be boiled and strained. The actual cooking of the fish in the soup will take only about 20 minutes, and then the dish should be served immediately.”
(4) “For a strong bouillabaisse, smack the fish several times against the counter before cooking. The eyeballs should dislodge and the fins should seep a green fluid. This is precious: save for garnish. I like to serve my bouillabaisse in a fish tank—-the presentation is dramatic and will cause your guests great delight. NOTE: Please remove any pet fish before adding the bouillabaisse! We learned this the hard way and we therefore dedicate this preface to our dearly departed Flipper.”
(5) “What is an ‘authentic’ bouillabaisse? That’s an invitation to a fistfight if there ever was one. Frenchmen living in Marseille can’t agree, so there’ll be no consensus here, I assure you. Above and beyond the “lobster, oui?” or “lobster, non” question–and the various interpretive issues, which we could spend the rest of our natural lives discussing–there’s the issue of fish. You’re simply not going to be finding any congre, loup de mer, rascasse, or rouget near you. This, my boss Jose assures me, is as close to the real deal (whatever that might be) as you’re likely to get. It’s pretty damn tasty.”