Thirty-five years ago I married a Cajun man and immediately began having a love affair with gumbo - A little fish soup on the side never hurt anybody … So, when Denise chose seductive Provence as the first culinary challenge for the 2010 Concert In The Park Series, I knew the summer would begin with the “poor man’s bouillabaisse,” Bourride de Séte or Bourride Setoisé - Roughly translated, “fish stew like they make it in Séte.”
The name is deceptive for a dish that ignited a major family feud in that charming port village in France. I’ve heard how entire families split and part ways over the omission of filé or okra in the gumbo, so I can only imagine what ignited the kitchen rift in Séte – adding more than one pot to the process? not using monkfish exclusively? or whether to stew the orange whole or only the zest? – whatever the offense, it must have blown up to Hatfield-McCoy standards for people to be talking about it hundreds of years later. But there’s more. The intrigue builds like the brew. Not only is this humble, attractive, provencal stew a home wrecker – it also boasts divine authority. The French say that when things were not going well for the Greeks it was because the gods were on holiday in France eating bourride …
This food is serious drama. I had to make it! But could I do it right?
Concept foods attract me more than recipes. Bourride is like that. With a technological grasp of how aioli, crème, fish, broth and rouille work together, you’re free to manipulate bourride with abandon – but this would my first attempt. I needed restraint. I decided, with few exceptions, to hold with tradition. While I can’t vouch for its purity, the recipe below is cobbled together from several sources which seemed to me to be authentic.
Like many Mediterranean fish soups, Bourride Séte is finished with rouille, a flavorful sauce which means “rust.” It’s a spicy, orange paste made with pepper, saffron, and garlic incorporated with egg yolks, dry bread and olive oil. The aioli, a rich garlic-mayonaisse, will be used along with the crème fraiche to thicken and flavor the broth and serve as a table condiment. Both recipes follow:
You will need:
• 3-4 garlic cloves, sliced
• 2 egg yolks
• Milk, 2 tablespoons
• 3 slices of good bread, crumbled
• ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
• 1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
• ¼ - teaspoon (or more) cayenne pepper
• salt to taste
•1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Gently warm the saffron in the milk until the milk turns yellow. Put the saffron milk, bread, egg yolks, vinegar, pepper and salt into a food processor and blend until the ingredients are incorporated. Then, begin adding the olive oil slowly. This can be made the day before. If you do make the rouille the day before and don’t eat it all and have to make another batch, you didn’t do it right.
You will need:
• 10 (or more) garlic cloves
• 4 egg yolks
• 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
• lemon juice or dry mustard to taste
Puree the garlic and whip in the egg yolks. In a food processor you’ll need to add the olive oil very slowly in a thin stream until the mixture is thick and creamy like pudding. Taste it and add lemon juice or dry mustard. Place in refrigerator until ready to use.
Now, to make the broth. You’ll need to begin with a basic fish broth. You can make one, but I used:
• 4 cans Trader Joe’s fish broth
• 2 stalks of celery cut in half
• 2 shallots cut in half
• 2 leeks (white part only)
• 1 small napa cabbage
• 2 bay leaves
• 1 hefty sprig of thyme
• 1 orange (whole, but cored)
• ½ bottle of white wine
Bring all to a boil and then simmer gently about thirty minutes until vegetables are very tender. Then, add the fish.
You will need:
• One very fresh fish per serving. Monkfish is preferable but any solid white fish like sea bass and scallops will do.
• Two or more kinds of fish is preferable. Bony fish like langustino, mussels, clams and shrimp add color and flavor.
Poach the fish by bringing the broth to a boil and then turning the heat down very low and simmer gently – stew the fish, about seven-ten minutes or until white and flaky and the shellfish 3-6 minutes depending on their size – Don’t overcook.
Remove the fish and keep warm.
Now make the bourride. You will need:
• ¼ cup aioli (per serving)
• ¼ cup crème fraiche (per serving)
• 1 cup of the hot broth (per serving)
Ladle the broth into a saucepan and add the aioli and crème fraiche. Whisk vigorously and constantly over very low heat until the broth coats a spoon. If your arm doesn’t hurt, you didn’t do it right.
Build your Bourride Setoisé
Divide the bourride into shallow bowls. Place warm fish in the center. Float a generous dollop of the rouille beside the fish. Serve with toasted bread and aioli.
If it doesn’t look altogether, sexy, scary and divine – you didn’t do it right.
Please visit Part II of Taste of Provence,...now posted here.