Today, the musts and must nots of preparing bouillabaisse are so numerous and so contradictory that one should be prepared to break rules at will.
— Richard Olney
The Musts and Must-Nots
Bouillabaisse is perhaps the most bastardized dish that was ever created and as a classicist, that truly bothers me. In its strictest form, bouillabaisse is an assertive flavored, richly textured saffron seafood stew made from a specific list of Mediterranean fish that is always served in two courses. The worst-case gives us a barely flavored, thin broth speckled with too many vegetables that some old seafood has been laid to rest in.
Somewhere in between lies bouillabaisse’s true soul, and sadly that has been forgotten, or worse yet, lost.
The Religion of Bouillabaisse
The ritual of eating a traditional bouillabaisse today is always the same. First we place two to three slices of oven-toasted French bread which have been rubbed with garlic in the bottom of our soup plates; then we top each slice with freshly grated Gruyere or Cantal cheese and top it with a dab of rouille. Then and only then do we ladle in the steaming hot aromatic fish bouillon. One or two more plates of this and — with the necessary refurbishments of garlic bread, cheese and rouille — we can turn our attention to the fish…
— Robert Carrier
I once wrote, “Eating bouillabaisse is a carefully choreographed religious ceremony, requiring 24 hours notice and preparation, whose consumption is performed in two sacred rites ending with genuflexion to the sacred cauldron.” I stand by those words with more conviction today than when I originally wrote them a few years back.
Bouillabaisse is correctly served in two courses, starting with the pungent saffron and tomato hued broth ladled into warmed bowls and served with garlic croutons, shredded cheese, spicy rouille, and garlicky aioli. After seconds are offered, the whole fish which were poached in the broth are presented to the table, then filleted and served glistening in a thin pool of extra broth.
For adherents of the bouillabaisse religion, there are certainties and expectations to be met. Trying to describe what authentic…