National Bouillabaisse Day celebrates this Mediterranean dish which is a kind of seafood stew/soup. It originated in Marseilles, France the French and Mediterranean people have been eating it since 600 B.C. The fishermen would make it when they pulled into port. Ideally it should be made with a few different kinds of white fillets like cod, flounder, sea bass or snapper and includes various herbs and vegetables like garlic, fennel, saffron, bay leaf, orange peel, leeks, onions, potatoes, or celery. Since this holiday falls in the middle of December it's a perfect time to warm your body inside and out with a bowl of Bouillabaisse.
Bouillabaisse is a traditional Provençal fish stew originating from the port city of Marseille. The French and English form bouillabaisse comes from the Provençal Occitan word bolhabaissa, a compound that consists of the two verbs bolhir (to boil) and abaissar (to reduce heat, i.e., simmer).
There are at least three kinds of fish in a traditional bouillabaisse, typically scorpionfish (fr: rascasse); sea robin (fr: grondin); and European conger (fr: congre); and it can also include gilt-head bream (fr: dorade); turbot; monkfish (fr: lotte or baudroie); mullet; or silver hake (fr: merlan) It also usually includes shellfish and other seafood such as sea urchins (fr: oursins), mussels (fr: moules); velvet crabs (fr: étrilles); spider crab (fr: araignées de mer) or octopus. More expensive versions may add langoustine (European lobster). Vegetables such as leeks, onions, tomatoes, celery and potatoes are simmered together with the broth and served with the fish. The broth is traditionally served with a rouille, a mayonnaise made of olive oil, garlic, saffron and cayenne pepper on grilled slices of bread.
What makes a bouillabaisse different from other fish soups is the selection of Provençal herbs and spices in the broth; the use of bony local Mediterranean fish; the way the fish are added one at a time, in a certain order, and brought to a boil; and the method of serving. In Marseille, the broth is served first in a bowl containing the bread and rouille, with the seafood and vegetables served separately in another bowl or on a platter.
Recipes for bouillabaisse vary from family to family in Marseille, and local restaurants dispute which versions are the most authentic.
In Marseille, bouillabaisse is rarely made for fewer than ten persons; the more people who share the meal, and the more different fish that are included, the better the bouillabaisse.
An authentic Marseille bouillabaisse must include rascasse (eng: scorpionfish), a bony rockfish which lives in the calanque and reefs close to shore. It usually also has congre (eng: European conger) and grondin (eng: sea robin). According to the Michelin Guide Vert, the four essential elements of a true bouillabaisse are the presence of rascasse, the freshness of the fish; olive oil, and an excellent saffron.
The American chef and food writer Julia Child, who lived in Marseille for a year, wrote: 'to me the telling flavor of bouillabaisse comes from two things: the Provençal soup base — garlic, onions, tomatoes, olive oil, fennel, saffron, thyme, bay, and usually a bit of dried orange peel — and, of course, the fish — lean (non-oily), firm-fleshed, soft-fleshed, gelatinous, and shellfish.