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French Fish Stew in a French Dutch Oven (?!)

In which our hero succeeds in making an exemplary classic French dish, and fails miserably in figuring out the depth of field on her camera.

First of all, I have to apologise.  I missed my post on the 7th.  It was National Cotton Candy Day.  I had no cotton candy and I had no internet.  And I was out of town on a business trip.  Hence, no post.  It’s a lousy excuse really, but there you have it.

It’s an interesting point to note that many of these so-called “American Food Holidays” are actually celebrations of traditional French foods.  Don’t tell those people who coined the phrase “Freedom Fries” but the French culinary tradition is so deeply engrained in American (and Canadian) food culture that many of the foods that Americans like to think of as traditional American foods are actually French in origin.  Why? Well, let’s think about it.  The three main colonizing countries of the Americas were France, England and Spain.  Spain and France are, like, right next to each other and their cuisine is really quite similar in a lot of ways.  And it’s really really good.  England?  Do I really need to state the obvious?  Mushy peas.  ‘Nuff said.  The Spanish never really got their hooks into the Northeastern seaboard so French food reigned supreme until the next big wave of immigrants from Europe began to hit in the late 19th century.

Which brings me to Bouillabaise.  A challenging word to spell, but a relatively easy dish to make.  A classic peasant meal – it’s easy to imagine French fishermen cooking up vats of the stuff in an old cauldron over the hearth in the days of yore.  As with many classic peasant dishes in the era of Michelin stars and celebrity chefs, it has been elevated to the rarified status of “gourmet food”.  In any event, it is the perfect meal at the end of a long, cold, (somewhat) snowy December day.  Of course, I had to get all “haute cuisine” on its ass and make it all fancy shmancy so it took me all day.  It still wasn’t hard, but the recipe is long on account of there’s a lot of ingredients.

I started out this morning by busting out the trusty ol’ Larousse for some quick research (see my earlier post on Mousse for more on Larousse).  Then I arrived at the grocery store shortly after they opened and I entertained myself by selecting my fish and perplexing the poor fish counter guy: “6 mussels, no 9, 9 mussels, 6 clams, 6 scallops, just a little bit of halibut, no a little less, and a little snapper, no a little more, and some shrimp please.”  I know he was curious, but he was too polite to ask.

At home, in my beautiful enamelled cast iron Dutch Oven (courtesy of the Fabulous Dea), I sauteed:  2 cups diced sweet onion, 5 cloves of Russian Red garlic (a very garlic-ey garlic, with a nice nutty flavour – an aside: did you know that there are dozens of varieties of garlic? Check out this link to discover more about garlic), a sliced/diced fennel bulb, 2 carrots diced, 2 sticks celery diced until onions were soft, translucent and starting to turn golden.  I added s & p, some sprigs of thyme, tarragon, parsley, 2 small bay leafs, 1 tsp. Ethiopian Berbere (a curry powder from a SaltSpring Island company), about 3 tbsp of chopped orange peel and sauteed for a few minutes more before removing from the heat.  I added to this mix four large peeled and diced tomatoes, 1 large can of diced tomatoes, 1 can of clam nectar.   Then I stuck the snapper, halibut and scallops on top, poured olive oil over it liberally, gently mixed it all up and stuck it on the front porch to marinate all day (it was -2 so I figured it was foodsafe).

After a raucous playdate for G with buddy Wyatt, a long afternoon nap and a trip to a baby shower (to which we arrived 2 1/2 hours late having forgotten it was a potluck and bearing the same gift we had already given to the expectant mommy months before), I made my bouillabaise.  I scooped the fish out and set it aside.  Then I brought the veggies and broth to a slow boil, adding two more cans of clam nectar and some chicken broth that was in the fridge (had to use it up – I know, I know – alll wrong in a fish soup – bad me!).  In the meantime, I fried up some potatoes to be added later.  After 30 minutes of simmering, I added back to the broth the snapper and halibut at a slow simmer.  Seared the scallops and set aside.  Deglazed pan with red wine and added to soup.  Scrubbed the mussels and then added mussels and clams.  Scallops and remaining juices went back in moments before serving.

A traditional serving of Bouillibaise (sorry about the focus - like I said, depth of field problems)

I served my serving of bouillabaise in the traditional fashion.  The broth goes in a wide shallow bowl with some bread (I used Thrifty’s “Bake your own bread” Filone) and the fish and other goodies get served separately.  P had his all in a bowl with the bread on the side.  I think the bread was probably too fresh for the traditional method – it got pretty soggy very quickly – but it was a good match flavourwise.  My second helping I had P’s way and I think I liked it better (could’ve been the butter on the bread).  It was awesome.  Reminded me of the fish stew that my dad used to make all the time. Crazy good – sometimes I really love having to do this blog because these are things I just wouldn’t make in the normal course of things.  We, of course, toasted poor Dea who was supposed to join us for dinner tonight, but was sadly held back on account of a rotten cold.

xoxo B.

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Sorry I’m late today.  This is a rather unsatisfactory post all around, actually.

First, there’s camera drama.  My friend Dave has my camera but doesn’t think he does.  I left it there on Thanksgiving, when I cooked him (and 14 other people) a goose.  So, still no pictures, although D. says she can help me find one somewhere. [Done! – D.]

Then, well, there was the bisque itself. I was excited to make bisque.  I’ve had it numerous times in restaurants, and I thought I would like making it.  I adapted the lobster bisque recipe from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook.  Bourdain has never led me wrong before; therefore I must claim credit for this miss.

First, I sauteed shrimp, in their shells, all chopped up.  I had some extra shrimp shells in the freezer so I threw those in for good measure.  “That stinks,” J. said.  I had to agree, but I was hopeful.  Then I threw in some chopped celery, garlic and onion.  The extreme fish-shell aroma receded, to be replaced by a pleasant, shrimpy aroma.  About then D. called.  We discussed camera drama.  While we were on the phone, I added some tomato paste and brandy.  Things were definitely looking up.

Then I stirred in some water and a bouquet garnit and let the whole thing simmer for about 45 minutes.  The shrimp-shell smell was rather strong, but I plowed on ahead.  Following Bourdain’s instructions, I ground up the shrimp, shell and all, in my food processor, put it back in the pot with some cream  (diluted with milk – maybe that was my mistake?) and cooked for another half an hour.  I strained the whole mess through a seive, pressing hard on the solids.  I re-heated it, seasoned with salt and pepper, and served.  It was a pleasant, orangy-shrimpy colour.  It sort of stunk.

image courtesy 46137 / Flickr- some rights reserved

image courtesy 46137 / Flickr- some rights reserved

We each took precisely one bite.

“It just tastes like shrimp shells,” J. said, “I want to like it, after all the work you put in.”  I had to agree.  A definite miss.

Maybe it was the gorgeous lemongrass chicken, served with a green papapya and mango salad, that J. and I were whipping up on the side.  Every bite a revelation of hot, sour, salty, sweet, and fresh.Of course sauteed shrimp shells couldn’t stand up.

In the end, it was an amazing dinner.

E.

It was a long, long week.  I was looking at my very packed weekend schedule and thinking, as B. said on Mouldy Cheese day, “Stupid social engagements – they really tend to mess with my eating.”  Sigh.

It was Friday.  I found myself at The Public, my favourite Main Street hangout, with 5 equally exhausted friends.  We’d downed 3 bottles of wine and eaten our way through the entire charcuterie board (all of their cheeses are local… mmmmmm…) when it occurred to me that I had to talk about gumbo on Monday and I had no free time until then.  I had to make gumbo on Friday or not at all.

I did a quick mental survey of my kitchen.  I knew I had some gorgeous local shrimp in my freezer from my last expedition to the Trout Lake Farmer’s Market.  I also had some chicken sausage from Organic World in Maple Ridge, a fantastic butcher shop near my sister’s house that carries a wide range of organic meat for unbelievable prices (see the comments on the Food Network’s “Eating Well” blog).  I was pretty sure I still had a few cups of shrimp stock somewhere in the freezer too.

Off I lurched to IGA (thank goodness it was walking distance), where after careening through the store in breakneck, take-no-prisoners fashion, I bought 2 cans of tomatoes and a can of okra (they didn’t have fresh or frozen).

I really like gumbo, but don’t often get to eat it (all restaurant versions are made with pork sausage).  According to at least one food writer, gumbo is a social equalizer: “Gumbo crosses all class barriers, appearing on the tables of the poor as well as the wealthy.”  I like to think that’s true.

I started out by making a roux: a mixture of equal parts flour and fat (butter, in my case), cooked until brown.  Whisked in several cups of shrimp stock.  Puréed and added one can of tomatoes.  Squeezed the sausages from their casings and sautéed them up with garlic and onions, and tossed them into the broth.  Chopped up and added the okra (I don’t really love okra but I like how it thickens the gumbo, so pretty much minced it).  Threw in some rice (I know, not traditional, but I like my gumbo with the rice cooked right in).

Pause: there was a slight mishap with the rice.

At the very end, threw in the shrimp and then decided it would be better with a pinch of smoked paprika.

We having a saying in our house: “hunger makes great sauce.”  We’ve also been known to ply our guests with copious quantities of alcohol before serving dinner at 10:00 p.m. (or later).  They tend to be very grateful for whatever we plunk in front of them (while I was cooking, we killed 2 more bottles of wine).

I served the gumbo at 11:00 p.m.  It was delicious.

Shrimp-Sausage Gumbo