Seafood soups are made all over the Mediterranean, traditionally by fishermen cooking whatever they couldn’t sell from the day’s catch. Bouillabaisse is the version from around the port of Marseille in south-eastern France. It’s traditionally served with rouille, a rich red capsicum, chilli and garlic emulsion.
1kg mixed small fish, gilled, gutted, scaled (see notes)
100ml extra virgin olive oil
12 green prawns, peeled and deveined, shells reserved
2 large brown onions, chopped
2 leeks, washed well, white part only, chopped
1 bulb fennel, bulb and stems diced, fronds reserved
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped chervil, stems reserved
2 litres water
400g canned Italian tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 fresh bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs French tarragon (see notes)
Pinch saffron strands
1 x 2.5cm strip dried orange peel
Salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
18 blue mussels, debearded
400g leatherjacket fillets, skin off, bones removed, cut into chunks
Make Rouille: Roast capsicums over a flame, or in a 250ºC oven for about 30 minutes, until skin turns black all over; place in a plastic bag until cool enough to handle then peel and discard seeds and membrane. Place capsicum, garlic, cayenne, salt, egg yolks and vinegar in a food processor and pulse to combine. With motor running, slowly drizzle in oil until thick and emulsified. Set aside.
Wipe out the belly cavities of the fish to remove any trace of blood, chop into 2-3cm pieces, including the heads.
Heat a large saucepan over medium heat, add oil and, when hot, add pieces of whole fish and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, until lightly coloured. Add prawn shells, onion, leek, fennel, garlic and chervil stems and cook for a few more minutes, until shells are red and vegetables are soft, crushing shells occasionally. Add ½ cup of the water to the saucepan and stir well to remove any bits on the base of the pan. Add tomatoes and their liquid, tomato paste, bay leaves, thyme, tarragon, fennel fronds, saffron, orange peel, remaining water, salt and pepper to the saucepan. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove orange peel, bay leaves, thyme and largest pieces of fish bones (it doesn’t matter if there’s some left behind). Blitz the soup with a stick blender to roughly chop then pass through a mouli food mill (using the finest disc) into a clean saucepan, discarding solids. Bring to a very gentle simmer, add mussels, prawns, leatherjacket and squid and cook for a few minutes, until mussels just open. Stir in chervil, remove from heat. Taste and add salt and pepper.
Ladle into warmed soup bowls, sprinkle with chervil leaves and serve with Rouille and toasted baguette.
Notes: Notes: Use a mixture of small fish such as flathead, red gurnard, goatfish, scorpionfish and whiting for this recipe. Alternative species: any small, white fish for the soup base; add prawns, vongole, cuttlefish, john dory, mirror dory or snapper to the finished soup.