When one goes into the origin of bouillabaisse, one is faced with conjecture and wild theory. One thing that most people do agree upon is that its home is Marseilles, although it’s made widely all over the Mediterranean coast. One apocryphal story told by the Marsellais is that Venus fed it to her husband Vulcan and thus lulled him to sleep so that she could dally awhile with Mars in secret.
While it’s pointless to go into the disputes regarding the paternity of the bouillabaisse, one fact is irrefutable – it was most probably a fish ragout of some sort, made by fishermen with leftover fish scraps. This basic fish stew was most likely transformed by some nineteenth century Marseilles chef into the bouillabaisse that we know of today – a rich fish stew made of the freshest of fish, Pernod, fennel, saffron and orange zest, among other things. Pronounced “booyabess”, the origin of the word is variously attributed to the abbess of a Marseilles convent, (bouille – abbess?) the fisherman’s “bouilhe-baisso”, or just “bouillon- abaisse”, which means to reduce by evaporation.
In Marseilles, they take their bouillabaise so seriously that they have a website dedicated to it. In 1980, the grand chefs of Provence drew up a “Marsellaise Bouillabaise Charter”, where they laid out the main ingredients and the correct cooking method of the original bouillabaise, or the “vrai bouillabaise”, as they call it. According to them, bouillabaise comprises two parts- the first being a soup made of different little fish, vegetables and herbs and spices. This part is eaten with croutons dipped in rouille, which is a garlicky bread-based sauce. Six different kinds of fish, including shellfish and red snapper, are simmered in the soup in the second part. They are scooped onto a plate, drizzled over with white wine and served along with the soup. A crisp dry white wine or rose wine is said to go best with this delicacy. Voila! You have here the finest meal, part appetiser, part main course. While all parts of the world have adapted this classic French dish in various ways, we show the original French way of doing it, along with the American adaptation:
Straight from the horse’s mouth, you could say. A French chef, who has been doing this dish for more than forty years, shows us how it’s done.
Bouillabaisse, done Jack’s way
A direct and simple variation this time, shown by world-famous Chef Jack Chaplin of the US.