Cloudy with a chance of Bouillabaisse

Written By: Tipsy Table - Aug• 14•14

Bowl of Clams tt 2Last week the normally bluebird skies of Sun Valley were filled with thunderclouds and lightning. The unexpected culinary adventure was realized when the local market had a ridiculous price of less than $2 per pound on fresh clams from Mexico. We dove into our larder of frozen seafood to find prawns, sea scallops, squid and cod. Perusing our cookbooks, we found The Joy of Cooking Bouillabaisse most similar to our favorite, but somehow missing, recipe. Adding a few ingredients, and serving with aioli, crusty whole wheat bread, and a goblet or two of red wine, it was perfect fare for a dark and stormy night.

Errol Morris fans will remember the trailer couple in the movie Vernon, Florida who cherished their jar full of “growing sand.” This was supposedly some radiated sand gathered during a past vacation driving trip to New Mexico. The duo insisted the sand had grown appreciably over the years in the jar. We have noticed a similar phenomenon with this wonderful faux bouillabaisse. As in its Marseille fishing village founding, it was and can be replenished over several meals. The fishermen would bring in the unsold daily catch to add to the pot and the cook would have another meal.

We venture the tag faux Bouillabaisse Sawtooth in defense of the widely held opinion that this great fish stew just does not travel well to other regions, even port cities, or in the hands of master chefs. Jean-François Revel in his brilliant book Culture and Cuisine-A Journey Through the History of Food lectures that:

Cuisine stems from two sources: a popular one and an erudite one. This latter necessarily being the appanage of the well-off classes of every era. In the course of history there has been a peasant (or seafarer’s) cuisine and a court cuisine, a plebeian cuisine…prepared by the mother…and a cuisine of professionals that only chefs fanatically devoted to their art have the time and knowledge to practice.”( p.18)

Revel feels protective of bouillabaisse marseillaise, branding it truly unexportable from the fresh fish of its port. He admits it is a temptation for this basic, delicious, fresh fish soup to be replicated in other fishing ports, but suggests even these cannot produce the real thing, the special fishes of Marseille. He blanches at adding other fishes, some that cannot stand up to the cooking, or mussels and other shellfish. It is a horror to add lobster and ruin both the ingredient and the dish. By the time the fish dish reaches restaurants, even in its fishing village, it is ruined with pretense and prepared stocks with tired seafood and high prices on the menu. By the time it reaches restaurants in Paris, he finds it a travesty. As for serving it with a rouille, well here in his own words:

                “…serving it with a rouille, an overrated sauce made with hot peppers or mayonnaise with garlic whose link with classic bouillabaisse is as extrinsic as that of mustard with meat.”(p.18)

Bouilliabase TT2Considering all of these restrictions for authenticity, we simply plunged ahead with the fact we met at least one of the requirements: this was a dish made at home. Yes, we had seafood from fish mongers in several US cities, but added fresh Mexican clams purchased a bike ride away at the local market. In fact, these unexpected bivalve molluscs in a small, mountain town leveraged this dish. We did make the aioli from scratch, though it was added at serving and not to the stock as would have been done. When the availability of these clams combined with an unexpected dark afternoon thunderstorm, our home-cooked Bouillabaisse Sawtooth was born and it lived a treasured life.

The following afternoon, the weather in the mountains remained threatening with summer thunderstorms. It was cold, wet, and windy outside. The answer, of course, was to add some more of the daily catch, or cache, of seafood and clams, and serve up again the wonderful fish stew. As the growing sand in the jar, this dish seems to regenerate and can make several dinners and even more lunches.


You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.