Bouillabaisse comes from Marseille but this fish soup is rooted somewhere between Arles and Sète, the beautiful fishing port where Paul Valéry asked to be buried in the most heavenly cemetery on earth : “the marine cemetery”.
A sun-baked location on the sloppy hills that overlooks the sea below, it is inhabited by slender cypresses and seagulls.
Here I break my resolution to only post recipes that take under half an hour to produce! But this soup is so rich in flavours and images, so laden with the finest from the sea and the freshest from the fields, that it would be a great shame to leave it out when I’ve just made it. It is in fact very unfussy and almost impossible too mess up… All you need is a great fishmonger and you’re off!
Baking potatoes 2
1 garlic clove
zest of one orange
Fennel bulb 1
Bay leaves 3
Fresh thyme 1 small bunch
Parsley 1 small bunch
Fish stock 1 1/2 litres
White wine 500ml
Monk fish tail (1 large one)
Small white fish such as brim or whiting 2 whole
A few fresh prawns (if you can)
For the aïoli:
6 fresh garlic cloves
Egg yolks 2
olive oil 25cl
Salt and pepper
First fry your small fish (whole but gutted) in a cast-iron pan with the herbs and seasoning. When it is nice and brown, add some water. You need to cover the fish and let it simmer a bit. If the broth is too bland, add a Maggi cube to strengthen it up.
Leave to rest while you prepare your main pot: Slice the fennel, chop the leek, the carrot and potatoes. Add to it the garlic, finely grated, bay leaves, and wine. Put on a medium heat and add the monkfish when it is bubbling.
Strain your pan with the small fish into a sieve, then with a fork take out all the flesh and the prawns if you use them. Put the juice and the flesh into a blender and blitz away. Add seasoning to taste: it must be full of flavours and rich enough to stand up to the Aïoli- that’s next!
Pour into the pot and cover. Leave the soup to simmer but not reduce to much.
For the Aïoli, I use the upside-down attachment that came with my blender and is supposedly dedicated to coffee or spices: that way, I find I seem to always get it to “gel” – though I always do cross my fingers! This is almost a mayonnaise but full of the smoothness of garlic so – unlike mayonnaise- I find it pretty easy to get right!
Put a little mustard in the blender to start it up, then the garlic and salt. Pour the olive oil very slowly and steadily. The mix needs to start becoming creamy and smooth straight away, then you build it up slowly with the oil, until you get the right quantity. It is pungent and raw!
Keep aside in a bowl and serve with the soup and thick slices of toasted bread to spread on…