Few experiences are more magical than sitting seaside at twilight, sipping white wine and savoring the famous fish soup called bouillabaisse. The aroma of saffron, sea, and herbs envelops you as you bite into toasts spread with spicy rouille and spoon up the unctuous broth and the seafood itself, morsel by morsel, into the night.
The French say a true bouillabaisse can be made only with fish from the Mediterranean. But by using impeccably fresh, sustainable fish and shellfish from our rich Pacific waters, and keeping true to the principles of making bouillabaisse, you can create a stellar version that also belongs completely to the West.
Using at least 3 kinds of shellfish gives the soup depth and character.
Sunset FEBRUARY 2011
1. Heat oil in a large, wide pot over medium-high heat. Sauté leek and onion until translucent, 2 minutes. Add garlic, then fennel slices from under fish on platter. Sauté 2 minutes, then add tomatoes, stock, wine, bay leaf, thyme, pepper, and salt.
2. Remove fish from platter; set aside. Lift off fennel stalks and fronds and discard. Scrape marinade into broth. Bring to a boil, covered; then simmer, covered, until fennel slices are meltingly soft, 30 minutes. Meanwhile, bring 1 qt. water to a boil.
3. Bring broth to a rolling boil. Lay in the halibut and add enough boiling water to just cover fish. Cook until just opaque, 5 to 7 minutes; transfer to a platter and cover.
4. Add thinner fish fillets and spot prawns and cook just until opaque, 2 minutes; transfer to platter as done. Add crab and mussels and cook just until mussels open, 5 minutes. Transfer both to platter. Add squid and cook just until opaque, about 1 minute; transfer to platter. Bathe platter with a ladle of broth. Remove bay leaf and thyme.
5. Ladle about 1 cup broth each into big soup bowls (keep broth hot for a second serving, covered). Bring bowls, platter, rouille, and toasts to the table. Put a little of each seafood in every bowl and top with a dollop of rouille. Serves 8 to 10.
Make ahead: Add fish to remaining broth and keep, chilled, up to 5 days.
When choosing your seafood, try to vary the textures and flavors. Some should be firm, others soft; some mild, others briny. Find them at a good seafood shop or your farmers' market.
Alaskan snow crab legs: Very firm, lobsterlike texture; sweet and mild. Usually only available cooked.
California mussels: Briny flavor; soft, melting texture with a bit of chew.
California squid (calamari): Firm but tender; sweet yet meaty. It's neither fish nor shellfish, really, but it gives great texture and flavor to the soup.
Dungeness crab: Flaky; sweet and moist.
Pacific cod (true cod, gray cod): Delicate; mild flavor.
Pacific halibut: Firm, with mild flavor.
Petrale sole: Delicate texture; mild, sweet flavor.
Rockfish (black bass, sea bass, black snapper): Medium-firm; clean sea flavor.
Sablefish (black cod): Silky, medium-firm; rich, buttery flavor.
Spiny lobsters: Succulent and firm. Can use, cooked, instead of crab. Available from fall to spring.
Spot prawns: Incredibly sweet taste and tender-crisp; keep head and tail on for the most flavor. Can be hard to find.
Note: Nutritional analysis is per serving.
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