Bouillabaisse is a traditional Provençal fish stew from the port city of Marseille. It takes its name from the Provençal Occitan word bolhabaissa: bolhir (to boil) and abaissar (to simmer). According to tradition, the origins of the dish date back to the time of the Phoacaeans, an Ancient Greek people who founded Marseille in 600 BC. Then, the population ate a simple fish stew known in Greek as 'kakavia.' Something similar to Bouillabaisse also appears in Roman mythology: it is the soup that Venus fed to Vulcan.
The dish known today as bouillabaisse was created by Marseille fishermen who wanted to make a meal when they returned to port. Rather than using the more expensive fish, they cooked the common rockfish and shellfish that they pulled up with their nets and lines, usually fish that were too bony to serve in restaurants, cooking them in a cauldron of sea water on a wood fire and seasoning them with garlic and fennel. Tomatoes were added to the recipe in the 17th century, after their introduction from America. In the 19th century, as Marseille became more prosperous, restaurants and hotels began to serve bouillabaisse to upper-class patrons. The recipe of bouillabaisse became more refined, with the substitution of fish stock for boiling water, and the addition of saffron.
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 (scorpionfish), a bony rockfish which lives in the reefs close to shore. It also usually contains conger eel and gurnard.
The broth is traditionally served with a rouille, a mayonnaise made of olive oil, garlic, saffron and cayenne pepper on grilled slices of bread. 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. This is a traditional recipe that serves 8 people.
4 lbs red mullet
1 conger eel, in 4 slices
10 small crabs
3 lbs red scorpion fish
3 lbs monkfish
3 lbs red gurnard
3 lbs John Dory
2 lbs tomatoes, cut in 4
4 onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, mashed
2 tbsp tomato purée
Bouquet of herbs: dill (2 sprigs); laurel (1 leaf); parsley (1 sprig); orange peel (1)
Salt, fresh pepper
2 tsp saffron
In a large pan slowly heat the onions with olive oil and garlic. Add tomatoes and tomato purée, raise the heat. Add 3 litres of water, bouquet of herbs, orange peel, mullet, eel, crabs, salt and pepper. Cook uncovered at moderate heat for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the bouquet of herbs and the orange peel. Add the John Dory and the monkfish. Add saffron. Add red gurnard and scorpion fish. Boil again for 6 minutes.
To serve: remove the large fish and put them on a serving platter. Prepare slices of bread. Pour in the Bouillabaisse over the bread. Traditionally Bouillabaisse is served with Rouille, a type of mayonnaise made with garlic and olive oil.
Concerning food and wine pairing I would choose Château Pape Clement (£50 - £107 a bottle dependant on the vintage) as a great accompaniment for Bouillabaisse. Pape Clement is the oldest wine estate in Bordeaux, harvesting its 700th vintage in 2006. The white wines of Pape Clement are elegant and have a purity of style. They are full bodied with undertones of honey, apricots and melons with a refreshing vibrancy.
I would also recommend Pavillon Blanc du Margaux (£59 - £77). Pavillon Blanc is the rare Third Wine of Château Margaux and is part of an age old tradition at the château. It was sold in the 19th century as 'vin blanc de sauvignon'. The 30 acre vineyard is made up exclusively of Sauvignon white grapes. It is located on a very old plot belonging to the estate and the Sauvignon grapes reach a level of ripeness which rids them of their vegetal characters and brings out floral and fruity notes. Pavillon Blanc is fresh, deep, complex and aromatic with lots of grassy, green pepper notes characteristic of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. It's a yellow gold wine which is elegant and luscious with notes of melon, lemon, honey and hay with a hint of minerals.
You may be surprised but Bordeaux Clairet will also pair well with Bouillabaisse – Clairet du Chateau des Lisennes (£5.87) is one of the best that Bordeaux offers and won the gold medal in Brussels in 2006. Situated near Bordeaux this Chateau is family run and has been in the Soubie family for 4 generations. The fragrant wine is a deep raspberry pink with violet reflections. The aroma is complex; it has raspberry, peach and spice overtones. It is soft and full, and the fruity taste of blackberries, redcurrants and raspberries explodes in the mouth giving intense round flavours.