Thursday, March 31, 2011

Marseille, Fish Soup with Gorgeous Garlic Rouille

Marseille is the oldest city in France -- founded by the Greeks in 600BC as Massalia (Μασσαλία).  Under the Romans it became Massilia and went through occupations by the Visigoths and the Aragonese (according to Wikipedia) before becoming Marseille. Flirtations with the Ottomans (and so many others) brought other influences to the table …it was the great port city.  Most of those interlopers left their imprint on the food of Marseille.  Fish preparations like Bouillabaisse are the happy result.

I love the food of the Mediterranean region and it couldn’t be better represented than it is in one of my favorite cookbooks, A Mediterranean Feast by Clifford Wright.  It is a 700-odd page mega-tome –– full to bursting with history, legends and incredible recipes that took him 10 years to complete.  It won the top James Beard award in 2000 for a thousand reasons – scrupulous research, informed and creative discourse about the relationships and influences amongst the cuisines of the area and those brilliant recipes… it’s a great cookbook that makes you think.  I use it often when I am in the mood for something from the region and I am never disappointed since it covers Europe to Africa and the Middle East and explores dishes of the past as well as modern favorites. I was especially impressed at the way Wright wrote of the influence of the Middle East on European Mediterranean food… it was quite an influence.  The diaspora of so many cultures, through war or settlement or commerce, created exciting flavors as they contributed to the local cuisine with their native techniques and spices.


I saw a recipe for soupe de poisson in Wright’s book and it cast a spell on me –– you can almost taste the salt air of the port of Marseille when you read it. This fish soup is a concoction of working class fisherman and the fish that were used were not fancy fish (those would be sold for money) -- these were the cheap, poor man’s fish that became the flavorful base for the soup. 

What about the fish you use to make the soup?  It's not just about taste, it's about sustainability and safety. Soupe de poisson is the original sustainable fish dish –– I used fish that aren’t high on the endangered list and got them from  the wonderful Lobster Place in Chelsea Market, NYC.  They are a great store with a superb and varied selection of fish –– perfect for a fish soup!

19th C. Fish 

You can read about what fish you should buy or stay away from at The Environmental Defense Fund  or the Monterey Bay Aquarium .  It's good to know what you're buying isn't irresponsibly caught or farmed.

Aside from over-fishing, it’s disheartening to realize we now must worry about eating too much fish –– mercury and pollutants from fish farms that use toxic levels of pesticides and antibiotics to deliver cheap fish (as well as using huge amounts of fish and animal byproducts to feed them –– 10 to 20 pounds for 1 pound of fish), further polluting and decimating native fish populations –– it’s a vicious cycle.  

 This is what Veta la Palma fish farm looks like

There are exciting new alternatives you can read about HERE  and in Dan Barber’s Ted Talk HERE as well as in the Saveur 100 this year.  These alternative methods actually help the environment rather than destroy it and make for superbly flavored fish as well. A visionary named Luis Contreras has done it in Spain at an 8,000 acre wetland (out of a 27,000 acre estate) named Veta La Palma  that produces 2000 tons of toxin-free bass, bream, eel, shrimp and sturgeon a year that are fed almost exclusively by an ecosystem that also cleans up after itself. The Dan Barber Ted talk was a real eye-opener for me.  I have enormous respect for Barber as a chef and a proponent of sustainable agriculture and, of course, great taste as seen at Blue Hill at Stone Barns  just outside NYC). Barber said the fish from Veta la Palma, were sublime. "Veta la Palma's fish is unlike any farmed fish I've ever tasted," he says. "It's unlike any fish I've ever tasted. It's sweet and clean – like tasting a bite of the ocean."

Once you've decided on the fish part of the soup, there is another classic component to the dish, rouille.

Rouille –– a garlicky, saffrony mayonnaise served with the soup on olive oil toasted bread.  I was lucky enough to speak to Wright about his unusual version of the sauce that has bread as one of the ingredients.  Wright told me this is a traditional part of the sauce that isn’t as familiar in the US as the straight egg and oil version.  He said he felt there had been a Catalan influence on rouille from Catalan picada family of bread sauces.  Wright said that the bread added bulk and made the sauce richer and smoother. “ It’s traditional in Provencal cooking.  If you leave the bread out, you are just making seasoned mayonnaise.”

The result is rich, fragrant and so delicious –– absolutely perfect with the soup.

Soupe de Poisson based on a recipe in A Mediterranean Feast serves 8
¼ c olive oil
1 large onion
2 leeks, chopped
1 small fennel bulb, sliced
2 ½ quarts water
3-4 lbs fish (I used whole porgie, sardines, whole dorado, blue fish, Spanish mackerel, striped bass and a carcass) Wright recommended using ¼ oily fish and the rest whiter fish (not salmon).  ***Make sure you get some whole fish or have your fishmonger give you some carcasses for the soup. To make a rich broth, you need bones and heads!*
1 pound tomatoes, chopped (or 1 can)
1 T tomato paste
3 garlic cloves
bouquet garni (parsley, thyme and bay)
pinch saffron (from Marx Foods)
½ t cayenne
4 drops Aftelier petitgrain or 1 10” strip orange peel and 1 t orange flower water  (do this to taste… I added more after cooking and straining)
1 oz Absinthe or Pernod or 1 T cognac (I added more after cooking and straining)
3 oz vermicelli, cooked (optional)

rouille (see recipe below)
½ lb gruyere, grated
* some people like to put additional chunks of cooked fish in the soup after removing the solids
Heat the olive oil and cook the onion leeks and fennel about 6 minutes over medium high heat.  Add the water, fish, tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, bouquet garni, saffron and cayenne, season with salt and black pepper and stir.  Let boil for 45 minutes.  Add orange zest and Absinthe/brandy and boil 8 more minutes.  The fish will have disintegrated at this point.
Take out the bones and skin and orange peel.  Pass the rest through a food mill and toss everything that doesn’t go through after several turns.  If you don’t have a food mill, press through a strainer to get some of the solids into the broth. Add the vermicelli if you wish. Top with croutons with the rouille and the grated cheese.
1 ½ c French bread (crust removed)
½ c fish broth
4-5 peeled garlic cloves
1 t salt
½ t ground red chili pepper (Wright recommended  chili de arbol and I used Marx foods)
pinch saffron (from Marx Foods)
1 large egg yolk
1 ¼ c olive oil (save ¼ c for toasts)
5 T butter
40 slices bread
Soak the diced bread in the fish broth. Squeeze the broth out. Mash the garlic cloves in a mortar with the salt until mushy. Place the bread, mashed garlic (saving 1 garlic clove for the croutes), red pepper, saffron, egg yolk and black pepper in a food processor and blend for 30 seconds then pour in 1 cup olive oil through the feed tube in a slow, thin, steady stream while the machine is running. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving. Store whatever you don't use in the refrigerator for up to a week.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the croutes. In a large skillet, melt the butter with the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat with the remaining crushed garlic until it begins to turn light brown. Remove and discard the garlic.

3. Lightly brush both sides of each bread slice with the melted butter and oil and set aside. When all the slices are brushed place them back in the skillet and cook until they are a very light brown on both sides. Set aside until needed.

Soupe de poissons

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SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

Oh my goodness, what a beautiful bowl of soup! The sound of the saffron and tomato flavors with this fish soup sound wonderful along with that delightful, fresh rouille topping. Gourmet cooking at its best!

I hope there are more fish farms developed around the globe like that one in Spain.

Sarah said...

This looks fabulous! Love all the flavours. I have to try this recipe. Thanks also for the info on fish farms. I am always torn as to what I should purchase and often there is no information at time of purchase, especially in my little town.

pam said...

It's all fascinating. I have got to get that book!

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

I hope you had a nice bottle of sustainable wine with this. :)

Shel said...

Your food pics are gorgeous...have to try that soup ...nothing beats the flavours of the Meditteranean.
Thank you for the recipes.

Lazaro Cooks said...

Fantastic information and well-written. Wish more of us had your passion for sustainability.

Lovely soup, great flavor base with the fish, liquor and of course a pinch of saffron. Sounds like heaven.


Emily said...

My stomach is rumbling at the sight of this beautiful soup and what a gorgeous dish to serve it in. Fish soup has been a firm favourite of mine since I tasted it in the South of France a few years aho and I sometimes to go Galeries Lafayette to eat in here in Berlin. Sadly though I've never been to Marseille and often dream of sunny days there so it was lovely to read about its history. I try to only eat fish a couple of times a week because of overfishing and it makes me sad to think that one day there may be none left.

La Table De Nana said...

We just watched a DVD about France.. Marseille was featured at the very beginning~..and 10 kms away there is a little fishing enclave..the water is so clear.. you would never guess such a quiet..beautiful place is so close to the city's center!They fished numerous fish ..and made a fish soup..It was so lovely to of the fishermen.. found a relic from Antoine De St-Exupéry's plane!Years ago..not during the episode..
Your post is so timely!Well done again..

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful soup, the flavors here are amazing and I just love the mayo with saffron & garlic on the toasted bread served with the soup, so unique and delicious!

Jacqueline said...

That is just a gorgeous soup and crouton. Your presentation is wonderful. I would love a bowl right now!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Oh rouille, how I love thee! Actually I just saw a couple on tv make a rouille and apparently theirs wasn't very good at all. This however looks stellar! :D

Fresh Local and Best said...

I'm glad to learn about Veta La Palma fish farm. I've been disenchanted with the numerous reports warning of fish toxins out there, so it's been hard to trust any source.

I've had this Provencal fish and it is fabulous, fabulous!! I love the addition of Pernod and fennel infused in the fish stock. The Lobster Place will give you fish heads and carcasses for free.

alison said...

great soup and a very informative post,thanks !:)

Table Talk said...

This post is full of great info on sustainability. Nice job expanding the discussion by discussing farming practices, as well as mercury levels in water, etc...
This soup sounds incredible; aromatic and full of flavor!

From the Kitchen said...

We were in Monterrey a few years ago during a conference on sustainable seafood. Although we weren't attending, we did visit several restaurants that were supporting it with their menus. I do hope this movement will continue. It's so vitally important. That bowl of soup needs to make an appearance in my life soon.

As always, thanks for your beautiful and informative post.


Bren said...

what wonderful information. sounds like i need to pick up that book. i love French history, but anything that covers the Med region is just as enticing. I love the soup and addition of saffron, something I love to use in my own food! Very, very nice!

Peggy said...

That is one gorgeous bowl of soup! And such great information of sustainable seafood! =)

Anonymous said...

What an incredible and informative post! I'm going to have to pick up that cookbook- my kind of book! I love the fish and the flavors. We keep visiting the north of France, and have never been south- I think that's going to have to change. I could easily adapt the rouille to be gf too!

Lori Lynn said...

Hi Deana - your soup sounds positively lovely. I have to make something with absinthe...A terrific addition to the cooking club!

That farmed fish photo is stunning, I had no idea that's how it was done.
P.S. I am in love with your soup bowls.

Kelly said...

It's so fun to see how different everyone's takes on this challenge are. I agree, your soup bowls are gorgeous - so regal looking. The color on the soup is also stunning. It looks so rich and filling and cooking with absinthe, now that is something I really need to start doing.

Linda said...

MMMMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm....that soup looks delicious. But the bowl....I love the bowl!

Mary Bergfeld said...

I loved your recipe today. The backstory was terrific as well. I really like the heady flavors of this soup. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

What an absolutely gorgeous bowl of soup! It is so true that over-fishing is a serious problem. I'm going to check out Dan Barber's TED talk - how great to hear that doing things right, also results in great flavor - talk about a win/win!

Gloria Baker said...

Your blog is lovely and love the recipes, love your header blog too, gloria

Taste of Beirut said...

I have that book and gave a copy to my brother years ago too (he is the scholarly type as well); I am in awe of the work of <r. Wright as well as his knowledge and he is not too shabby in the realm of middle-eastern food either! I could not find anything lacking in that volume. In fact, I mentioned the author in passing when I did this radio interview as there is a theory in it about pasta's origin being Arab. Very plausible. Anyway, so the soup you made looks and sounds heavenly. I love Marseille, and any soup that comes from there gets my vote.

About Last Weekend said...

Great photos of a wonderful looking soup and fascinating history. I just wanted to let you know too that I referred to you and your fantastic pictures for my post on sherry last week....

Peter said...

I love rouille. It really shouldn't just be for fish soup.

Daily Spud said...

As we would say in Ireland, there's both eating and drinking in that soup, not to mention a lot of food for thought. Gorgeous.

Barbara said...

A superb match for Natasha and Lazaro, Deana! The three of you always have fascinating posts with attention to history, detail and, of course, cooking with sustainable foods.
This soup has all your special touches...starting with absinthe and ending with the rouille. The color is marvelous and you've plated perfectly. The best thing, this soup is simple enough to make for any of us, so we can all enjoy the marvelous flavors and dream about Marseille!
The cookbook sounds exactly like something you would love!

Jessica said...

What a perfect selection for the makeover! I loved this soup. The idea of a Rouille to accompany the soup intrigues me! I may just have to try this one out soon! It looks decadent and beautiful. You did a wonderful job =)

pierre said...

Bouillabaisse I love it !!Pierre

Magic of Spice said...

What a beautiful recipe...exceptional!

Ken Albala said...

Lovely lovely soupe! Your intuitions about Marseille and Arab influence are spot on. Though I have to say, I had Bouillabaise there, the one mentioned by Julia Child as being transformative, and it was dreadful.

Karen from Globetrotter Diaries said...

I can smell this now... LOVE this recipe (especially the touch of orange), And love Clifford Wright, but I don't have that book. I am definitely going to get that next-- going on my queue!

Tanantha said...

Hi Deana! Sorry I'm late to check out your makeover dish as I had a surgery on Friday. Anyway, your soup bowl is in 1820's!?? wow. It looks beautiful and elegant. This post is informative and well-written one! From the ingredients, it sounds so flavorful with your choice of fish is unique and excellent! Beautiful work.

El said...

Fascinating stories about the fish. The dish you made looks incredibly good. And your china is gorgeous!

Marjie said...

It's amazing how simple the soup recipe is! I love soups with a tomato flavor to them.

Sorry I've missed you the past couple of weeks. It took me a long time to get back to "normal" after a week being sick (whatever "normal" might mean)!

Diane said...

As always, great post. Love the recipes and especially that soup bowl. Will catch up with the posts I have missed in the next week. Diane

Jonny said...

bouillabaise, rouille, I love the way they make me manipulate my cheeks to pronounce them. The marseillaise accent and all the salty charm of that great city makes all the vowels even bendier. I love a soupe au/de poisson with the glorious color from the saffron and the little kick of pepperyness of the rouille. I would venture a theory - no doubt disprovable given the absolute lack of any research to back it up - that the curve of the Mediterranean from Catalunya up through the Alpes-Maritimes have a culinary consistency due to the historical presence of Occitan speakers through whom the Moorish saffron and use of peppers was propagated. Great post!

Anonymous said...

I just started reading your blog and I just wanted to let you know how beautiful and educational it is. Thank you.

Tasty Trix said...

Holy crudballs I need to make rouille stat!! And you have just given me another cookbook to buy ... I wish I had a 1,000 lifetimes to read the piles of things that await me. I love your dish and this post was a great read (as always).

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